Q&A with The Dancers of Damelahamid: Cultch Artist-in-Residence

As part of their artistic residency here at The Cultch, the Dancers of Damelahamid are currently workshopping their upcoming production, ‘Flicker‘. We chatted with Margaret Grenier, Executive and Artistic Director of the Dancers of Damelahamid, about the role of dance in her heritage, the power of reconciliation through art, and the creative process of workshopping a new performance.

Hi Margaret! Can you tell us a little about the Dancers of Damelahamid? 

The Dancers of Damelahamid are an Aboriginal dance company based in Vancouver, BC. Our mandate is to advance the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the art, history, language, and traditions of First Nations’ culture through story dance and song; to educate the public about and increase cross-cultural understanding of First Nations’ heritage through dance performances at festivals, in educational institutions, and at other venues and public spaces; and to advance education by providing instructional workshops on traditional First Nations’ dance to students at elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools.

What role does dance play in your heritage?

Dance plays an integral role in our cultural heritage. It is an intergenerational practice, strengthening ties between elders and youth. The art form carries forward language, story, song and dance as well as being a platform to share from as a community and on many levels.

What is Gitxsan masked dance?

Dance on the Northwest coast has always brought together all aspects of coastal art. The masks, as well as the narratives portrayed through movement and song support the underlying story and themes. The art form is a reflection of a way of understanding and seeing the world, indigenous to our home territories.

Gitxsan songs and dances were banned by the Canadian government for several decades. The Dancers of Damelahamid emerged, in part, as a response to this – to ensure that the Gitxsan heritage was preserved and not lost. What role can art play in reconciliation and healing?

Storytelling through movement has been an integral part of defining our unique identities as indigenous peoples on the Northwest coast. There is a healing authority to the dances. Through continual and dedicated practice we strengthen our ability for reconciliation within ourselves as well as offer this understanding through performance. Therefore our collective consciousness can move forward, bridging our differences and celebrating our distinct identities.

Your upcoming production, ‘Flicker’, is a part of The Cultch’s 15/16 season. Can you describe the show?

Flicker is an innovative dance piece by the Dancers of Damelahamid in collaboration with multi-media artist Andy Moro that combines Northwest coast graphic designs with projected environments. Vividly rich imagery represents the ‘spirit world’, the mystical realm portrayed through Gitxsan masked dance. Just as light shimmers, Flicker represents the moments through which one can cross space and time, as the dancers journey in and out of the ‘spirit world’ of their ancestors.

In creating a new work during your residency here at The Cultch, what has your creative process been like?

It has been an intensive creative process and a wonderful opportunity to bring together the multilayered aspects to the production, making for a very full and productive month. We have worked for a year to prepare for the residency, beginning with a short research residency last summer at The Cultch. All aspects of the production are coming together from the choreography and song composition, the regalia and set creation, as well as the supporting soundscape, video projection, and lighting design.

‘Flicker’ will be on at the Historic Theatre May 25 – 29, 2016.

For more information about the Dancers of Damelahamid, visit their website: www.damelahamid.ca