Roy Henry Vickers’ art helps inspire One Wave show

What: One Wave Gathering
Where: Centennial Square
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, noon to 6 p.m.
Admission: Free

A children’s picture book with imagery from celebrated First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers will come alive at Centennial Square on Saturday.

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The free live performance of Peace Dancer, Vickers’ 2016 book with Victoria author Robert (Lucky) Budd, is part of the 12th annual One Wave Gathering, a community-building initiative by the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership.

The festival, which runs through Sept. 25 with events at various locations, will see Vickers on hand Saturday afternoon for a collaboration with Theatre Inconnu’s Youth Program and puppeteer Tim Gosley.

Gosley originally adapted Peace Dancer for a Puppets For Peace performance with Vickers at Government House in 2017. Working with the artist again has been rewarding for both Gosley and his cast of 22, who range in age from six to 65.

“Part of the draw is they just want to be around Roy,” Gosley said. “He’s the man.”

Vickers — one of the province’s most renowned artists — moved from Victoria to Hazelton in northwestern B.C. 15 years ago, though he still has a popular art gallery in Tofino. He has expanded his repertoire in recent years through his many collaborations with Budd, which are very successful and widely available.

Gosley actually hatched the idea of bringing Peace Dancer to life, with large-scale reproductions of Vickers’s art in the book, after seeing it on a shelf at Bolen Books.

“I went: ‘Oh, peace. Hey, I do a thing called Puppets for Peace!’ ” Gosley said.

“It was banal reasoning to start off with, but as I got into it, it was a really interesting exploration into peace through Indigenous culture with contemporary artwork, as opposed to creating historical dancers, which is often done. I thought that gave it a new tint.”

The story involves children of the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla, where Vickers once lived, who mistreat a crow.

When the Chief of the Heavens hears this, he unearths a powerful storm, which floods the village. When the children make amends, and promise to value all life, the storm stops.

A peace dance is subsequently made a custom at every potlatch, in order to teach future generations the importance of respect.

Vickers will read from the book at the performance Saturday, with support from Gosley’s cast, which features “a rainbow collection of different nations,” according to Gosley, including six children and seven Indigenous youth.

“In the middle of the stage, Roy tells the story, and the 22 people behind him illustrate the story. It’s as if his book comes alive through movement: There is puppetry, but it’s a little bit like an animation. The idea is that people see his artwork, and they hear his voice. He is the focus.”

Gosley, a master puppeteer who played Basil Bear on the Canadian version of Sesame Street in the late 1980s, loves the parallels between what his cast has created and the role puppets and masks play in First Nations culture.

“First Nations people are our first puppeteers,” he said.

“In the longhouses, they would have marionettes of a kind, and masks were very important. But a lot of that was lost in the annihilation of their people.”

Gosley said he gratefully accepted the invitation from the producers of the One Wave Gathering to participate in the 14-day festival.

He imagined the debut performance of Peace Dancer two years ago would be it for his original creation.

“Often with these things, you do them and throw them away, which I find really sad. I was quite pleased and honoured when the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership asked us to do this. I have hopes it continues, as the focus is to give youth and others an experience. Usually, we learn a lot about life that way.”

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