It’s time for a celebration.
That’s the idea behind “Welcome to Indian Country,” making its world premiere Thursday, May 27, at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia.
“I wanted to create something that would reflect the joy that I felt as a Native person — the connection that I felt to community and culture and the land,” said producer and director Andre Bouchard of Olympia. “It is a pretty good time to be Native.”
The show — with an all-Native cast, including acclaimed jazz trumpeter Delbert Anderson and Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest — aims to share that joy far and wide through seven songs and seven stories.
“About a year and a half ago, I conceived this show as a celebration, not even knowing how much a celebration would be needed in these post-pandemic times,” said Bouchard, who is of Kootenai/Ojibwe/Pend d’Oreille/Salish descent and runs the nonprofit Indigenous Performance Productions.
While it includes traditional elements, “Welcome” reflects the lives and present-day realities of Native people and shines a spotlight on the creativity and innovation of Native artists leading the way.
Showcasing Native performing artists is the mission of Indigenous Performance Productions, which also produced Portland drag artist Anthony Hudson’s “Looking for Tiger Lily,” which the center hosted in February 2019.
“We’re fighting against popular and inaccurate conceptions that Native people in the United States are a monolithic culture,” Bouchard told The Olympian. “There’s an idea that Native art is all traditional art — powwow dancing, powwow drumming, beadwork, baskets, things like that.
“Native artists have been at the forefront of American arts in the last 150 years,” he said. “There were Native jazz artists at the inception of jazz, there were Native rock musicians at the inception of rock music, and so on.”
Changing that perception is a key element of “Welcome,” which will feature stories told by Priest of Bellingham, a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, and songs performed by a genre-spanning musical ensemble.
Anderson, a Diné/Navajo musician, composer and educator, is a well-known jazz innovator whose New Mexico-based ensemble DDAT takes inspiration from ancient Native melodies as well as hip-hop, funk and soul. In “Welcome,” he plays both trumpet and theremin, an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer.
“Welcome’s” ensemble also includes fiddler and bass player Nokossee Fields (Osage) of Lafayette, Louisiana; vocalist, pianist and guitarist Julia Keefe (Nez Perce) of New York City and Spokane; DDAT drummer Nick Lucero (of indigenous Peruvian descent); and singer, bass player and guitarist Mali Obomsawin (Abenaki First Nation at Odanak) of New York City.
Bouchard, Priest and the musicians have been collaborating virtually for months, but they will rehearse together for the first time Monday at the Washington Center, where they’ll be in residency for a week of intensive rehearsal and technical assistance from staff at the center.
“We’re going to be fiddling with the show order and fine tuning our transitions and all the nuts and bolts,” Bouchard said. “The residency is extremely important to making this a world-class production.”
The project received grants from the Washington Women’s Foundation, the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the National Performance Network, ArtsWA and the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound.
Washington Center executive director Jill Barnes said she’s thrilled to be collaborating on “Welcome,” intended as the start of an ongoing partnership with Indigenous Performance Productions.
“Contemporary Native American performing artists have been underrepresented on stages across the United States,” she told The Olympian. “We are excited to be a part of changing that reality.”
‘Welcome to Indian Country’
- What: This world-premiere show celebrates life in song and story.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 27
- Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
- Tickets: $24-$39, with most seats sold in pairs
- More information: https://www.washingtoncenter.org
- Watch at home: You can stream the show during the same times as the in-person screenings. Tickets are $12 per household.