Rosy Simas’ solo piece “We Wait in the Darkness” is a personal exploration of her grandmother’s experience as a Native American. (Courtesy Ian Douglas)

Dancer Rosy Simas exposes Native Americans’ struggles

Choreographer Rosy Simas admits that “We Wait in the Darkness,” a solo piece based on her grandmother’s struggles as a Native American, isn’t happy. Yet the process of telling its previously untold story, she says, can have a positive effect.

“For me, it’s about giving language and voice to people. In the act of doing that, there is healing that happens,” says the Minneapolis-based artist, who presents the local premiere of the 2014 dance this week at ODC Theater in The City.

Created over a series of intensive collaborations with composer Francois Richomme, who lives in France, the piece, Simas says, is “non-narrative,” an abstract dance integrated with carefully crafted film (by Douglas Beasley) and sound (by Richomme).

It explores details in the history of Simas’ grandmother, Cleo Jackson Waterman, a descendant of an 18th century Seneca Indian chief. As a young child, she witnessed her father’s death; later, she lived through the flooding of the Seneca nation’s Allegheny Reservation, which was sacrificed to build the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania.

After that, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked at the San Francisco American Indian Center, the grassroots group in the Mission famous for organizing the occupation of Alcatraz in the late 1960s.

Simas describes her grandmother as a quiet hero, not a protester on Alcatraz. “She was the person who stayed back and made sure the doors were open (at the center). She was more of the day-to-day person dedicated to the native community. People from that time still remember Mrs. Waterman,” Simas says.

Waterman’s behind-the-scenes efforts are something to which Simas relates. “I feel I’ve inherited part of that, and my mother is part of that, too…. doing the work that is important to do is inherent in our culture and passed down.”

Simas’ mother also is part of “We Wait in the Darkness.” In the piece, she reads two letters written by her mother. Simas reacts to them, and reflects on events in Native American history, in particular the “painful” tragedy of the loss and displacement resulting from the flooding and dam.

“It takes a lot of courage to dive into those histories,” Simas says, and it’s something scholars are just beginning to do.

“We Wait in the Darkness” is being presented in San Francisco at a timely moment, just before Columbus Day. Along with having a healing effect, Simas hopes the show will contribute toward necessary efforts to rename the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

IF YOU GO
Rosy Simas Danse
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 8-10
Tickets: $30 to $45
Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.odcdance.org/tickets

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