Project Description


This 2016 CSA-Nominated and 2015 CSC Award-Winning one-hour performance arts documentary, is a stunning journey into Iroquoian teachings on love, life, community, and spirit, as expressed through dance (both traditional and modern). Kaha:wi – The Cycle of Life was an original dance show created by award-winning Mohawk dancer and choreographer Santee Smith that was re-interpeted for the screen by director Shane Belcourt. The screen was further brought to life with the cinematography of James Klopko and the production design of David Hannan. While this performance arts documentary is a showcase for the dance numbers, it is also an investigation into the process and teachings of creating this spiritually based work.


  • In 2015 Cinematographer James Klopko won the Canadian Cinematographers Award for Best Cinematography in a Documentary.
  • In 2016 Director Shane Belcourt was nominated for a Best Director Award for a Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards.

Core Methodology of the Show

Kaha:wi is a performance piece that perpetuates Iroquoian cultural knowledge, traditional aesthetics and expression in a contemporary form. The term “traditional” can be misleading, a blanket statement being too broad. Katsi Cook, renowned Mohawk midwife, explains:

“Some anthropologists are now describing

[it] as the ethnosphere, meaning all of the visions and dreams and experiences we have as Onkwehon:we people or real people, that is our ethnosphere. I like that better than the word ‘traditional’ because it does not put up a barrier saying that is yours, this is ours… we are human beings.”

Using this concept of ethnosphere, Kaha:wi does in fact represent the visions, dreams and experiences of the Onkwehon:we people involved with the project. Each collaborating artist contributes their own identity and their own sense of cultural identity. At the same time, the idea of universality is also evident in the thematic content of Kaha:wi: Birth, death, natural cycles, love and the celebration of life. These are basic human experiences which cannot be differentiated between cultures.

Original Dance Production Synopsis

Kaha:wi celebrates traditional Iroquoian song, dance and symbolism through contemporary dance expression. Powerful and captivating, Kaha:wi connects with audiences emotionally, physically and spiritually. This production is profoundly connected to the richness, integrity and beauty of the Iroquoian people. The cycle of Life unfolds through Kaha:wi as a grandmother dies and a new baby is born. The narrative weaves around the lives of three generations of women and the community in which they thrive. Kaha:wi draws inspiration from Iroquoian social dances such as the Gada:tro:t (Stomp Dance), Ehsga:nye: gae:nase: (New Women’s Shuffle Dance), Gayowaga:yoh (Old Mocassin Dance) and the Wa enoti:yo (Stick Dance). Musically, Kaha:wi highlights traditional based songs such as the Dawn Song, Gada:tro:t, naming songs and Ato:wi:se (Women’s Chant or Moon Songs).

Production Details

Directed by Shane Belcourt
Choreography & Story by Santee Smith
Produced by Jim Compton & Jeremy Edwardes
Executive Producers R. Todd Ivey & Cynthia Lickers-Sage
Associate Producer Agi Gutkowska
Choreography by Santee Smith
Director of Photography James Klopko
Production Design by David Hannan
Edit by Jordan O’Connor
Sound Design Corby Luke & Chandra Bulucon
Featuring Garret Smith, Michael Demski, Ceinwen Gobert, Emily Law, Alex Twin & Semiah Smith
Based on the original dance performance piece by Santee Smith, “Kaha:wi – the cycle of life”

Run Time: 45 mins
Format: HD Video (RED EPIC 5K)
Air Dates: Fall 2015 on APTN & Spring 2016 on CBC

Official TV Production Website:

TV Production Facebook Page: here

Kaha:wi Dance Company Website: here