Choreographer and dance scholar Jane Peck has for the past 15 years been researching a time period that she says very few people know about. In the area around the Twin Cities, in the 20-30 years before the U.S.-Dakota War, it was normal for people to have blended marriages. “The people who lived it, they weren’t the people who wrote the history books,” she said.
Peck’s current show with her company Dance Revels Moving History is called Bottinueau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota. The play, which will be presented at Intermedia Arts this weekend, is a culmination of Peck’s research and is also the result of partnerships with a number of different ethnic organizations including the American Swedish Institute, The Minnesota African American Museum, Alliance Francaise, Mendota Mdwakanton Dakota, IFMidwest and AFRAN, La Compagnie, the American Association of Teachers of French, Tapestry Folkdance Center, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and several historical societies.
At the center of the play is Pierre Bottineau (after which Bottineau neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis is named, as well as Bottineau Park and Bottineau Public Library), who was a key player in the U.S. development of Minnesota. Born of a French-Canadian father and a Native American mother, Bottineau was integral in forming many treaties with Native American tribes, and helped found settlements that would eventually become cities in Minnesota.
Peck says that in the history books, it is often overlooked that Bottineau was of mixed heritage. “We are trying to show this other side of him,” she says. “What was that culture?”
The play looks at Bottineau’s life, and presents such characters as first Swede in Minnesota Jacob Fahlstrom, Dakota leader Little Crow, African-Ojibwe Marguerite Bonga, French Sister Philomene, Henry and Sarah Sibley, and the Métis oxcart men (part Native American, part French people who took furs from the Red River Valley to St. Paul in oxcarts).
Peck has used part of her research already in a touring educational show called A Voyager’s Tale, about Frenchmen who came in on the fur trade; her company takes the show to local schools.
Part of Peck’s research has involved traveling to the Winnipeg area, where there are a number of French-Indian people. She said in the United States there are a number of Métis people living at Turtle Mountain reservation, where two performers in the show come from. Peck has been to Turtle Mountain several times, where she has studied the dance.
Peck did the bulk of the writing with Josette Antomarchi, but for the show she is bringing in many performers from various different traditions—from Swedish to Native American to Hatian—that help show the rich diversity of ethnicities that the show features. “There’s been a lot of collaborating around the dancing portions of the show,” she said. Peck has shared her research with the partnering groups she has been working with, and has learned from them as well.
Bottineau Jig features fiddlers Eddie “King” Johnson from the Turtle Mountain Reservation and Gary Schulte from St. Paul. Linda Breitag will be singing in the show, and dancers include Larry Yazzie, Kenna Cottman, Virgil Benoit, Ricky Thomas from Turtle Mountain, Craig Johnson, Paulino Brener, Scott Marsalis, Jane Peck, Jamie Berg, Josette Antomarchi, and M. Cochise Anderson.
Concurrent with the production will be a Métis step dance workshop on March 26, from 1:00-2:30 at Tapestry Folk Dance Center. Bottineau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota runs Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Avenue South.