Thursday, November 22, 2012

Michael Greyeyes on Temperance as a Philosophy for Surviving

tem·per·ance (noun) – moderation or self-restraint in action, statement, etc.; self-control.

On holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas do you find yourself tempted to over do it with eating? I know I can certainly be tempted in this way.

And of course throughout the whole "holiday shopping season" between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the dominant message of our capitalist society here in the U.S. is to buy more and consume more.

All the more timely, then, to reflect upon the alternative message of the following videos.

Contrary to their titles, these videos aren't really about gluttony. Rather, they feature actor, director and choreographer Michael Greyeyes talking about the virtue of temperance and the wisdom of restraint – qualities that are the antithesis of our consumerist society yet hallmarks of all of the great spiritual traditions.

As far as I can gather, these two videos are excerpts from a short film that's part of a Bravo!FACT's series that explores the Seven Deadly Sins.

Temperance is a virtue – it's more than a virtue. It's our way forward. When my parents were raising me in Saskatchewan, I always remember them telling me one thing. They talked about patience and about watching what you say. Because they said when you say something, it comes into existence. So if you wait that one moment, that one moment of restraint or caution, [then] that hurtful thing, that impulsive thing won't escape and it won't come into being. So I always remember that and it has served me well, always taking that moment.

Temperance is made up of many things. It's humility, mercy, patience, forgiveness. This is an age of consumption. Temperance is not valued. But actually, if you were to remove yourself from, like, the heart of what we do, the way we behave, you'll find that temperance is actually a philosophy for surviving. I think as things change, as we realize that things are changing around us at unheard of paces, as the climate shifts and radically changes before our eyes, I think we'll realize that older ways of living were imbued with restraint, were imbued with a philosophy of continuance. And I think we have to relearn it.

I must say I find much in Michael Greyeyes' life as an artist and as a human being to be inspiring. Perhaps you will too after reading the following overview I've put together, one that starts with an excerpt from a review of Greyeyes' achievements written by Kenneth Noskiye.

A member of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Michael is a graduate of the National Ballet School in Toronto. In 1984, he went on to apprentice with the National Ballet of Canada before he joined the company as a full Corps de Ballet member.

While with the prestigious National Ballet, he performed in all the major classics, including Swan Lake, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. In 1990 he left the National Ballet to join famed choreographer Eliot Feld in New York City. While in the Big Apple, Michael danced in many performances as a soloist, and as a featured dancer in many roles.

The year 1992 was a turning point for Michael; this was the year he choreographed his first aboriginal-related play, Glory of the Morning. "I've always been proud to be First Nation," he says. "The arts, either it be dance or film, are a way of showing the rest of the world what we have to offer." He continued to choreograph for stage and film, which included two productions of Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters.

Since 1993, he has devoted himself to film and television. He has appeared in featured roles in such films as TNT's Geronimo. He played "Gooch" in Bruce McDonald's Dance Me Outside [above] . . . and the title role in director John Irvins' Crazy Horse [right].

He has appeared in television shows, as a guest star, on Millennium, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and as a co-star on CBS's Stolen Women, Captured Hearts [left].

All this success has not gone to his head though. "I am doing something I really enjoy," he says. "I believe our people are gifted and it's great to see so many aboriginal people starting to pursue their dreams."

Michael Greyeyes has also played supporting roles in a number of films, including Firestorm (1998), Smoke Signals (1998), Skipped Parts (2001), Sunshine State (2002), The New World (2005) (right), and Passchendaele (2008).

His most recent television work was his 2009 portrayal of Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the PBS series We Shall Remain (below).

As accomplished as he is as an actor, it has been dance that has remained central to Greyeyes' life and work as an artist. In 1996 he collaborated with the filmmaking partnership of director Kent Monkman and producer Gisèle Gordon to create a dance work entitled A Nation is Coming.

A Nation is Coming draws upon prophecy to reflect on the radical advances in technology and diseases that have affected Aboriginal people in the past and the present. Against images of fire, disease, and the bleakness of modern civilisation, a Ghost Dancer is resurrected: a symbol of the ill-fated prophecy that promised the restoration of the vanishing buffalo herds and the old way of life. The dancer (Michael Greyeyes) assumes different forms as he finds his way through memories and visions; some are apocalyptic and full of dread, while others, like the Ojibway prophecy of the Eighth Fire are more hopeful and suggest a new beginning.

More recently, Greyeyes has created from thine eyes. Described as an "epic dance-theatre piece," from thine eyes opened last year's DanceWorks season at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre and deals with moving on from this life into the next.

In her review of the piece for the Globe and Mail, Paula Citron writes:

The story of from thine eyes began in the 2008 Cree opera Pimooteewin: The Journey, for which [Greyeyes] was both director and choreographer. The opera deals with a trickster and an eagle who visit the land of the dead to bring the spirits back to the land of the living.

He wanted to explore the topic in more detail. “Aboriginals believe that a new consciousness is required for a new journey. We need new eyes if we are to move forward,” he says. “What truth do people see at the moment of their deaths? The title is from the Koran, ‘Lift the veil from thine eyes,’ denoting that new understanding.”

Also in 2011, Greyeyes directed Nakai Theatre’s The River by Judith Rudakoff, David Skelton and Joseph Tisiga. The play is about the lives of people living on the fringe, and is inspired by the notion of "ghost populations," which Rudakoff says are "everything from homeless people to alien abductees."

In Roxanne Stasyszyn's Yukon News article about the piece, Greyeyes and The River's writers discuss their work further:

“Everybody has a story worth telling,” said Greyeyes. “What this play does is take voices and characters that don’t normally have a place on Canadian stages and says, ‘The stage is yours.’”

But it’s not political, Greyeyes said. “It’s completely humanistic; meaning, politics may be the result of things, but what it says is, every character in this play is compelling.”

The play will be a success if even just one audience member leaves able to empathize with someone they would normally dismiss, said Skelton.

But there won’t be any speeches, lectures or preaching in the play. The way the script is written is very informal, said Skelton. “It’s like sitting around a fire and shooting the shit,” he said. “And then for some reason, somebody starts to talk about something really important.”

In a society where there's a glut of trivial entertainment packaged and pumped out for mindless consumption, I'm thankful that there are artists like Michael Greyeyes who creatively highlight and explore important ideas, issues and realities.

Recommended Off-site Links:
An Interview with Michael Greyeyes – Indigenous Arts Network.
No Thanks for Thanksgiving – Robert Jensen (AlterNet, November 21, 2012).
Going Cold Turkey on Black Friday – Heidi Schlumpf (National Catholic Reporter, November 13, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Something to Think About – November 24, 2011
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
Superstorm Sandy: A 'Wake-Up Call' on Climate Change
Let's Also Honor the "Expendables"
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
The Trouble with the Male Dancer: Challenging Notions of Masculinity
The Soul of a Dancer


brian gerard said...

Excellent Thanksgiving post, Michael. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Love this article, thanks so much Michael! Love all of your work, as an artist!