The Firehall Arts Centre celebrates International Women’s Day with Ribcage: This Wide Passage, the story of Esther Brandeau, the first Jewish woman to land in then New France in 1738, disguised as a boy.
Boarding a ship in France headed for Quebec, Brandeau not only disguised herself as a boy, but also as a Catholic as the colony’s authorities considered it important, at least officially, that the inhabitants abide by Catholic orthodoxy. Any non-Catholic immigrant would either face conversion or deportation. In Brandeau’s case, after being caught out in her disguise, she was eventually returned to France.
And while some scholars still debate whether Brandeau’s cross-dressing constitutes one our country’s earliest queer pioneers, for queer artist and academic Heather Hermant, that connection to our community is obvious.
“It resonated with me as a female. I read it as a queer story. Imagine a young woman in the 1700s who worked for five years as a young man. You don’t live that life and not be transformed in your relations with other people,” says Hermant who recently completed her PhD on the subject of Brandeau/La Fargue.
In the interdisciplinary work, the story of Brandeau/La Fargue is presented with video, live music and the performance of Hermant, who also comes from Jewish descent of Quebec immigrants. As both poet and archivist, Hermant investigates and questions the meaning of history, memory, loss, and belonging through the archives of Brandeau/La Fargue.
Ribcage: This Wide Passage plays the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) March 3-8. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.