Margaret Grenier and Dancers of Damelahamid

This week DanceWorks presents Dancers of Damelahamid, an Indigenous dance company under the direction of choreographer Margaret Grenier. The company is currently focussed on defining their practice to ensure continued tangibility and accessibility to future generations. They have travelled all over the world with their multi-disciplinary dance performance works that draw on Northwest Coastal dance as well as producing the annual Coastal First Nations Dance Festival since 2008. Margaret Grenier holds a Masters of Arts in Arts Education from Simon Fraser University and was a faculty member for the Banff Centre Indigenous Dance Residency 2013. She serves on the Board for Vancouver's Dance Centre as well as the Canadian Dance Assembly.

Margaret took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about identity, creative process and the Northern Flicker.

LR: You cite dance as the most significant inheritance from your parents and grandparents...I wonder if you can elaborate on why you feel it is the most significant, I suppose in its essence as a physical art form and also its function in a community?

MG: Dance has defined my identity as Gitxsan. It is a tangible expression of who I am. It has been the main source of connection to language, story and the artistic practices that have been part of my family for generations. Northwest Coastal dance is in its essence connected to the oral histories that hold both law and governance. It is something that was so closely lost, that decades of work was need to ensure its revitalization. The love and dedication of the past two generations, to move the dances forward, is a beautiful gift to receive and uphold. 

LR: I have been a bird watcher since birth (my parents took me on my first major excursion when I was just 8 months old) and I do love the flicker -- its sounds and size, the unique attributes of woodpeckers' anatomy. Could you tell me a bit about the this bird, the flicker as starting point for a dance/multimedia performance work?

MG: The Flicker’s unique tail feather is an important part of Northwest Coast design, as it forms the shape of the split U. Even the most elaborate of Northwest Coast artwork is created from two basic shapes, the ovoid and the split U. With the dance piece Flicker we wanted to look deeply at what the essential elements are within the dance form in order to build from there. 

For our company, Flicker is one of the first pieces that we have worked on to bring contemporary perspectives within the traditional form. Flicker is also a metaphor for light. We explored different mediums to express this concept of light within Flicker. Just as light flickers, the underlying metaphor is about how carefully we must nourish our artistic practices in order to sustain them and ourselves.

LR: What is most important to you in your creative process?

photo by Derek Dix

MG: The most import thing for me is to be true to myself. My incentive is to honour the generations before me and also to do my part to pass this forward. I have to carefully navigate my place in this because for me it is about being intimately connected to the knowledge base and at the same time challenging myself to take risks with where I see my limitations. For the most part those limitations are false. My creative process is for me a process of decolonizing. 

LR: How do you work in rehearsal with the dancers?

photo by Derek Dix

MG: I see the choreographic process as going beyond the studio. The relationship with the dancers is that of creating and maintaining a family. Therefore the work becomes quite personal and is a reflection of identity. Each dance piece becomes a framework that guides us through an exploration of self and community. It is also a process that connects us to ancestral knowledge. I find that it is very hard to find a means to maintain this connection without the art form. 

LR:  What else are you working on and or what is next?

MG: The Dancers of Damelahamid are working towards developing a new multi-media dance work, Mînowin that integrates narrative, movement, song, performance, and multi media design, connecting to landscapes from contemporary perspectives of customary Indigenous dance forms. Mînowin describes the act of recovering or clarifying direction. 

LR: Thank you Margaret for taking the time with me! I am really looking forward to seeing your performance this weekend.

Join me there!

Dancers of Damelahamid
February 9 and 10 at 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre


more info on the show:


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