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Community Engaged and Cross Cultural Dance


Karen Jamieson Dance has long been deeply engaged in dance collaborations with communities and community groups, with a long history of creating and producing work that engages in dialogue with First Nations, Asian and European artists and cultural practitioners.

Work in the arena of community engaged dance began in 1990 with a commission from National Gallery of Canada to create a site-specific work that led to the creation of Passage, concerned with the spirit of place. Passage augured a major shift in the focus of Karen’s work.

Gawa Gyani – (1991) a collaboration between KJD, a company of professional dancers, and the director of the Museum of Anthropology, Michael Ames, First Nations artists and performers including Doreen Jensen, Alice Jeffrey (Gitk’san) and Evan Adams (Coast Salish), created and performed with the Gitk'san Dag’m Haast Dance Group, led by Kenneth Harris (Hagbegwatku), and Margaret Harris. The title refers to the ceremony whereby two sides come together in a designated arena to resolve issues of great importance. The performing space became the metaphor for that arena. This work toured from the Museum of Anthropology across Northern BC to reservations and towns, across Canada to the Museum of Man and the Festival International de nouvelle danse and to the Canada Dance Festival in Tokyo.

Stone Soup – first performed in 1997, was undertaken as a symbolic journey extending across Northern BC, from Smithers to Haida Gwaii. It was conceived as a ceremony to ritually ask permission to enter the traditional territories of the First Nations partners in the work. Each of the fourteen performances was specific to the territory and partner in each community. They performed primarily in Reservations to audiences of both native and non native communities. In many instances the work was seen as a groundbreaking bridge between these communities.

The River – (1996) The River was composed of five different performances on different sections specific to the course of a buried stream under the streets of Vancouver, Brewery Creek. The work wrote the choreography on the land itself. It was created in collaboration with the Brewery Creek Historical Society. It explored the possibility that what is written on the land, is written on our bodies. It established a connection between the community and the land that it rests upon. The audience was intended to experience the river within their own bodies and to become a conduit for the spirit of that place, the spirit of the stream. The work was successful in achieving these goals.

Necessary Encounter – (1999) a duet created for the Rotunda of Vancouver Art Gallery conjunction with the exhibition Down From the Shimmering Sky. It was site specific, cross-cultural and was created under the eyes of the passing public.

Raven of the Railway – (May 2001) the site-specific, Raven of the Railway was created in partnership with Tsimshian mask carver and storyteller, Victor Reese and the Roundhouse Community Center. It involved four professional dancers as well as a group of non-professionals drawn from the Roundhouse community to develop a core group called the Community Dancers.

Quest – (2003) was collaboration with First Nations artist Byron Chief-Moon, based on traditional story from the Blood Nation of Alberta, a dialogue contemporary dance and traditional dance, between past and present. It was performed by two traditional First Nations dancers, Byron Chief Moon and Karen Jamieson

The Skidegate Project – (2002 – 2005) when Karen Jamieson undertook a process of creative collaboration with the Haida community of Skidegate, a village of about 900 people on Haida Gwaii. The focus of the collaboration was to create a dance memorial for Percy Gladstone, a Haida elder that was very close to Karen Jamieson in her formative years and a strong influence in her development. It was a 3 year process of intense cultural dialogue. In January 2005, this 3 year project culminated in a performance event (January 2005) presented at the annual clan dinner of the Kaahdaas Gaah K’iiguwaay, Raven Wolf clan of Tanu. About 50 people participated as performers, another 15 or so as translators, advisors, researchers, and artists.

Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance – (2005) an extension and development of The Skidegate Project was performed at the Museum of Anthropology as an off site event of the Dancing on the Edge Festival produced by the Firehall Arts Center and was a three way partnership between the Karen Jamieson Dance company, the MOA and the Festival. It was a meeting of post modern dance and traditional Haida dance with contemporary compositions from Haida composer Vern Williams and western composer John Korsrud. There is story telling on many levels, including the story of the creation of this work. The performance involved 19 dancers from Skidegate, between 5 and 8 urban Haida dancers and one modern dancer. Note: In 2010 Karen Jamieson Dance premiered a documentary film entitled The Recollector which reveals the journey taken in The Skidegate Project: Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance.

Elmer & Coyote – (2005) is the most recent work to emerge from a seventeen-year collaborative partnership between Aboriginal artist Byron Chief Moon and Karen Jamieson. The work represents an active and living symbol of dialogue between cultures, resulting in an interweaving of the language of western stage choreography and the language of aboriginal story telling.

The Carnegie/Firehall Community Project, Stand Your Ground – (2005 – 2008) located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside this multi-year project involved both professional and non-professional dancers in a process of communication around spirit dancing and the language of danced poetry and myth. The Legacy (2008 - ongoing) of this project is to seed dance within Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through a series of projects to develop the community leadership and engagement. Major partners in this development Simon Fraser University School For The Contemporary Arts – Woodwards and Carnegie Community Centre. New projects to date: Techno Carnegie (2010 & 2012) & Listen (2011)

Collision – (2008 - 2011) – a new choreography integrating the many layers of KJD practice into a single work – a legacy to Karen Jamieson’s work – bridging professional and community practices. Collision will be created through a unique joint residency at the Roundhouse Community Centre and the Dance Centre and will involve community & professional dancers and multidisciplinary artists. Exploring spirit of place and the history of Vancouver. Site specific to the Roundhouse performances July 2011

Procession of Performing Circles, Techno Carnegie, Listen, The Extensions & CONNECT - (2010-present) - An ongoing program of dance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Karen Jamieson Dance has a long history of engaging in partnerships with cultural institutions such as the Museum of Anthropology, (Gawa Gyani and Skidegate Project) the Museum of Man in Ottawa, (Gawa Gyani) the National Gallery (Passage) the Vancouver Art Gallery (Necessary Encounter) the Roundhouse Community Center, (Raven of the Railway, Collision) the Skidegate Museum (Skidegate Project), Carnegie Community Centre(Stand Your Ground) as well as the more mainstream dance partnerships with theatre venues and festivals.