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Karen Jamieson Biography

“I was born in Vancouver in 1946.

My mother grew up on a farm on Bowen Island. My family spent great deal of time on that farm and I was strongly influenced by the spiritual values of my maternal grandparents.

My father’s mother was Laura Jamieson, a founding member of the Canadian Commonwealth Federation, a suffragette, a juvenile court judge and an MLA.

My family would accompany my father on his research trips through BC. We would camp in fields, or stay in motels while my father did his research for a book on the Doukhobors of the Kootenays. We camped on the reservations while my father did research all along the Skeena River for his book on “The Indians of British Columbia”. I was close to Haida Elder Percy Gladstone as I was growing up.

Discussions of social justice, economics, class structure, culture and values were frequent in the house.

My childhood house was on Norland Avenue in Burnaby, semi rural at the time, fields overgrown with bushes and trees running all the way down to Still Creek which was still running at that time and still alive. I caught frogs in the ditches that ran parallel to the fields and into the creek. My friend and I found a raft once and drifted down Still Creek and found crayfish. I had a flock of chickens, each of whom had a name and they laid eggs. Industry moved into Burnaby and we moved to Kerrisdale. Today there is no sign of the creek, the ditches, the frogs, the fields, the trees, where we played; it has been completely obliterated and paved over.”

 

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Anthropology in 1967 from the University of British Columbia, Karen Jamieson attended Simon Fraser University to pursue a teaching degree where she discovered dance with Iris Garland and other New York City artists. From the first moment of experiencing dance, Karen knew this is what she was meant to do with her life.

Encouraged by Iris Garland, in 1970 Karen went to New York City where she received major dance training, studying at schools of Alwin Nikolais, Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham; ballet with Alfredo Corvino and Maggie Black. She was invited to become a member the Alwin Nikolais Dance Theatre, and toured with the company throughout North America. Karen also worked performing and touring with Yvonne Rainer, exploring some radically experimental practices and concepts of dance including work with both professional and non professional dancers. She performed as a dancer with Phyllus Lamhut, an important early teacher and mentor. The early 1970’s was an extraordinary and inspirational time to be in New York City. The city was exploding with new ideas, post modern thought and experimentation in dance. At the same time the pioneers in modern dance and classical ballet were still teaching and creating. It was possible to go and see work new by George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer and Twyla Tharp as well as the beginnings of contact improvisation with Steve Paxton and of countless emerging choreographers.

In 1975 Karen returned to Vancouver and was one of the founding members of the experimental dance collective, Terminal City Dance Research which became one of the front runners of the Canadian contemporary dance landscape, frequently touring British Columbia and Canada. Through Terminal City, with colleagues Savannah Walling and Terry Hunter, she studied dance, voice and the physical theatre techniques of Jerzy Growtowski laying the groundwork for development of a new language of interdisciplinary experimental dance.

In 1980 Karen was awarded the Chalmers Award for Creativity and Excellence in the Arts (Choreography) – the top choreographic award in Canada at the time. She taught composition and technique to dance students at Simon Fraser University and technique and improvisation classes to professionals through the Dianne Miller/Earl Kraul studio.

Karen continued her study of ballet with Grant Strate, Earl Kraul and Diane Miller, as well as contemporary dance with the teachers she brought in from across Canada to teach company class. She studied martial arts with Master Yuwa Wang, former coach for Canadian Olympic team and Michael Levenston, rock climbing for Passage from various mountaineers in Ottawa and Vancouver, clowning with Gina Bastone and masking with Wendy Gorling. Karen’s mentors during this time included Grant Strate and Betty Oliphant of the National Ballet School.

In 1983 the Karen Jamieson Dance Company was established as a vehicle for the creation and production of works exploring dance as a mytho-poetic language. Through the company Karen created stage based performances with dance professionals. Works from this period include, Solo From Chaos, Sisyphus, Drive, Rainforest, The Roadshow. The Man Within, Le Bateau, Oracles of Innocence, Passage. Her work Sisyphus was created as part of the inaugural performance of the company and in 2003 Sisyphus was recognized in Canada’s Dance Collection Danse magazine as one of the ten Canadian Choreographic Masterworks of the 20th Century.

Karen Jamieson Dance has performed at the National Arts Centre, Harbourfront’s Premiere Dance Theatre, Vancouver’s Playhouse Theatre, National Gallery of Canada, Expo ’86. The company has toured Canada and performed at Canadian festivals such as the Canada Dance Festival, the Winnipeg Contemporary Dance Festival, Festival International de nouvelle danse, Vancouver International Dance Festival, Dancing on the Edge Festival, Dance In Vancouver, InfrinGinG festival and performed in international festivals such as The Holland Festival, the Baltimore Festival, Dance Canada Festival in Tokyo Japan, World Dance Alliance Global Assembly in Toronto and the 20th Dance Week Festival in Zagreb Croatia.

In 1994 she received the 125th Anniversary of B.C. Award for her significant contribution to compatriots, community and Canada. Karen has created 86 original choreographic works, with original scores by over 20 contemporary Canadian composers. She engages in cross-cultural dialogue with First Nations artists, addresses the spirit of place while creating dance within communities.

Her studies with First Nations cultural practitioners began in 1989 and are significant and pioneering. Her mentors include: Kenneth Harris Hereditary Chief of the house of Hagbegwatku (Gitksan), Doreen Jensen Hahl Yee (Gitksan), Evan Adam (Sliammon), Alice Jeffrey Hereditary Chief Muhui Lak of the Lax Seel (Gitksan), Dianne Brown (Haida), Gladys Gladstone (Haida), Matriarchs of the K’aadaas Gaah Kiiguwaay clan (Haida) and Byron Chief Moon (Blackfoot Confederacy).

She was mentored by the late Dr. Michael Ames, museologist and teacher and director of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC who became a co-collaborator in the innovative cross cultural work Gawa Gyani. This study was the foundation of a number of groundbreaking works that engage in cross cultural dialogue with First Nation artists and thinkers: Gawa Giyani Harris Family Dancers – (Gitksan), Stone Soup Tour, Northern BC (Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Haisla Nation, Wet’suwet’en, Gitksan and Haida) Territories, The Skidegate Project – Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance (Haida) Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, BC.

Beginning with the site specific work Passage, Karen Jamieson has been on the cutting edge of Community Engaged Dance. Her pioneering work in this new art form was used in the creation of the pilot program of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Artists and Community Collaboration Fund. Landmark works in include, The River a work that travelled with audience, community dancers and professional dancers along the path of a buried stream. The Carnegie/Firehall Community Project, and Techno Carnegie, The Extensions, taking place in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Collision at the Roundhouse Community Centre, with different artists, cultures, past and present all colliding in the evocative spaces of the Roundhouse, a terminal for the Railway.

Karen’s work as a teacher is highly valued; she has been invited to teach to various groups of professional, emerging and student dancers as well as non-professional dancers. Her seminal works have been remounted by her on students at School for Toronto Dance Theatre as part of a study in classic contemporary masterworks. Commissions have included works for Dancemakers of Toronto, Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers, TIDE, National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, Main Dance, Simon Fraser University School for the Contemporary Arts and Dancing on the Edge Festival. She is currently engaged in actively passing on her life’s work through mentorship, re-creations and archiving.


Karen Jamieson is listed in the British Columbia Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Theatre Dance in Canada. Her work is highlighted in the publications: Dance Encounters by Leland Wendrichs, Sisyphus by Kaija Pepper, Dancing Our Stories by Doug Durant and Dance Collection Danse - 25 Years of Dancing Up Mountains. Amongst the many profiles in magazines and television Karen has also been featured in Grey Horse Rider a biographical documentary on Byron Chief-Moon long time protégé and collaborator.

For the past 15 years, the foundation of the Karen’s dance practice has been Vijnana yoga, studying with Gioia Irwin and Orit Sen Gupta. Recently she has integrated the principles of tensegrity anatomy into her Vijnana/dance practice and is a certified teacher of this practice. In these past few years a basis for a transformative dance practice has emerged, centered on techniques of dancing from the energy body, the invisible body within the visible body. This practice develops understanding of elements like weight, inner space in relationship to outer form, inner and outer eyes, pathways of energy and rootedness. Basic principles of this practice draw upon years of training in both classical and modern dance and upon the principles of Vijnana yoga and tensegrity anatomy.

The creative processes of Collision were based on this energy body practice. The stakes were very high for the professional dancers, whose choreographic demands included speed, extreme changes in level and slamming the body on concrete. They were required, through their practice, to transform the concrete floor into a sea of energy. The challenges for the community dancers were different. Their task was to transform the space, creating a poetic through-line to the work that held it together.

“I was very moved by what they achieved. There was something deeply exciting in the process and in the resulting transformation of dancers and space. Different artists, inner and outer, past and present, all colliding: this took me somewhere I had never been.”

Karen is currently working on a solo dance work for herself called solo|soul simultaneously creating new research processes with other artists in “danced conversations”. The solo work will premiere in the summer of 2014. Karen is establishing an on-going program of dance in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and developing an intensive mentorship program for emerging dance artists interested in the community engaged dance practice.

Karen Jamieson lives in Vancouver and is still dancing.