Mi'kmaw production 'Mimikej' premieres at Sydney's Highland Arts Theatre March 5

SYDNEY — To Sarah Prosper, dance and music are more than movement and sound — it's storytelling and a way to honour the stories and teachings of her people.

At only 23 years old, the dancer/director/choreographer from Eskasoni is already getting set for her second theatre production, "Mimikej" (Butterfly), to hit the stage at the Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney.

"A lot of information and things that we talk about today are held within those songs and the spirit of who we are lived in those songs," said Prosper. "Yes, I dance to them, but when you listen and try to understand where those songs come from, who sung them, and where they sung them, you begin to learn and understand who the people were."

Prosper's first production, "Samqwan" (Water), garnered significant praise, winning outstanding choreography and outstanding independent production at the 2022 Robert Merritt Awards. Prosper says "Mimikej" will feature a smaller cast and a more significant focus on L'nu (Mi'kmaw) music.

"With 'Samqwan,' it was, no pun intended, like jumping into the ocean and seeing what happened with everyone involved and not closing the doors to anyone. The cast was almost 28 people for 'Samqwan,'" said Prosper. "This time around, you'll see about five performers on stage and the musicians. We focus more on the music in 'Mimikej,' particularly the music of Mi'kma'ki and new music coming from L'nu composer Shawnee Paul."

Frequent collaborators Paul and Prosper co-wrote "Mimikej" together, with Paul composing the music and Prosper serving as director and choreographer. Prosper says the production uses music to address several topics, not the least of which is the centralization of the Mi'kmaq people in Nova Scotia.

"Music is so important in our culture and how we gather and celebrate life and where information and stories are held," said Prosper. "This show is a tribute to centralization, too, and the stories of the centralization of Mi'kmaw people."

The stories and experiences turned performance shared on the stage, Prosper says, are inspired by her experiences listening to and being with her community. Prosper describes "Mimikej" as a "work-in-progress," saying she finds it hard to finalize any of her creations, never knowing when a new experience or connection will expand her view.

"There's no completion to any of these stories, and there's no completion through what's been created because I think the next time and even every day that it's performed, it will be different," said Prosper. "Hopefully, in future developments of this project, we'll have more collaborations and more involvement with elders."

For Prosper, creating an environment where Mi'kmaw people can feel comfortable being creative and vulnerable is something she aims for in her productions. She says access to creative outlets and safe spaces to learn and create is necessary to build confidence in Mi'kmaw youth, and it's up to the creatives with access to make these spaces.

"There are youth that want to be in spaces that are made for them, and there is so much importance in that, and not just spaces where people are going to have education for them," said Prosper. "They try to build those types of capacities in institutions and universities and workspaces, but how about people's everyday lives and the things they want to do? Are they gaining that access? No, most of the time, they're not, and it needs to be built from the ground up."

Prosper says she hopes the show serves as an inspiration to young Mi'kmaw creatives but also hopes it serves as a message of unity to all of her people.

"I hope that people will come and feel loved and supported by the stories that I've been listening to and that my peers and the performers have been listening to and bringing to life on stage. That they feel a sense of recollection and unity," said Prosper. "In 'Samqwan,' we had people saying they felt the reflection of who they were for the first time and the importance of that. I don't know what 'Mimikej' will do. You don't get those answers until you're done. So, you just let go and show up."

"Mimikej" premieres at the HAT on March 5 and will run daily through March 10.

Mitchell Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post