Robert Lepage’s ‘Kanata’ finds a home in Paris

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MONTREAL — A previously cancelled play by a Quebec playwright about the relationship between whites and Aboriginal Peoples will finally be presented in Paris despite criticism from Indigenous communities that its content is culturally insensitive.

The Paris-based Theatre du Soleil nixed its production of Robert Lepage’s “Kanata” earlier this summer after the show’s North American co-producers backed out due to the controversy.

Theatre du Soleil reversed its decision, however, and announced Wednesday the show, called “Kanata – Episode 1 — The Controversy,” will go on this December on the previously scheduled dates.

“After taking the time to reflect, analyze, and wonder what course to follow, … Theatre du Soleil finally reached the conclusion ‘Kanata’ isn’t hateful, sexist, racist or anti-Semitic,” the theatre said in a statement.

Lepage held a meeting in July with about 30 members of Quebec’s Indigenous community who had signed an open letter denouncing the production for being an example of cultural appropriation.

Activists complained ‘Kanata’ didn’t include enough content from Indigenous Peoples.

One week after that meeting, the show was cancelled.

It was the second time over the summer a play by Lepage had been cancelled following criticism from cultural communities.

A theatre in Montreal ended the production of his play, SLAV, after black activists accused the production of profiting off the pain of slaves.

While it is still unclear whether the December production of ‘Kanata’ will include Indigenous artists, the theatre said it will be up to the audience to decide whether the production has merit.

“Once the show is visible and people can judge, it will be free to have its detractors criticize it and to penalize it with the ultimate sanction, which is to leave the room,” the theatre said.

Quebec’s three main political parties had denounced the decision to cancel the play.

Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee was particularly vocal about what he called an attack on artistic freedom.

Lisee welcomed the news the show will in fact be performed in Paris.

“We will be able to see, judge, hate or love ‘Kanata,”‘ he said. “It’s a victory for artistic freedom.”

Lepage’s Ex Machina production company announced Wednesday the Parisian theatre will produce the show with its own financial means. The company’s statement added Lepage will direct the show for free.

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