Carnegie Community Centre Newsletter – Vancouver, BC
August 1, 2007
Stand Your Ground
"Stand Your Ground" was a dance performance of the Carnegie/Firehall Community Project. In one part of the performance I saw Ricky standing in the centre of a circle of dancers in the Carnegie gym. He stood with enormous dignity, solid as a mountain. He was standing his ground as his people have stood their ground, and will continue to stand their ground, until justice is done. Standing our ground was a major theme of the dance, and it was created in the dialogue between Karen Jamie-son and the participants of Dance 101, an ongoing dance workshop at the Carnegie Community Centre. We know about standing our ground in the Downtown Eastside.
The dance performance that I saw started in the courtyard of the Firehall Arts Centre at 5:00 p.m. on July 9th, 2007. The sun shone warmly in the courtyard. Peace was there, and mindfulness. About twenty people made up the audience. You couldn't have more than that because the audience had to move to different places in the Downtown Eastside. Stephen opened the event by acknowledging that we were on First Nations land. He called for a minute of silence to remember those who have gone before us. So do the dead open the gate of mindfulness. Stephen then gave a prayer of gratitude. He told us the dance would celebrate the spirit of place and the many cultural traditions of the community. This particular event would be a celebration of our community, the Downtown Eastside, because this is where we are, this is where we live, and the places the dance visits - First United Church, Hastings Street vendors, Ovaltine Cafe, the Listening Post, the Aboriginal Front Door, and the Carnegie Community Centre - are all places in the Downtown Eastside. As Bruce Eriksen has said, "The people who live here, they call it the Downtown Eastside."
In spite of all the vicious, ignorant, name-calling by the media, and the threat of unrestrained gentrification that pushes people out of their community, this dance performance celebrates the spirit of place - the proud, caring, multicultural, low income community of the Downtown Eastside. And we will stand our ground.
At the Firehall Theatre the members of the audience sat on chairs facing the stage in the courtyard. After a powerfully evocative song by a performer in the First Nations tradition, the large iron gate behind us swung open and dancers came toward us, silent and mysterious, like spirits from the underworld, in dreamtime, dressed in the multicultural costumes of dreamtime. They came like ghosts and walked among us, muttering short messages about journey, both inner and outer. We entered dreamtime with them and moved with them out of the courtyard and onto the street. As we journeyed from place to place, the spirits sang children's songs, danced and brought joy to streets that have seen too much pain. As I watched the dancers, and the musicians who accompanied them, in dreamtime, in sacred space, that is in space that is saturated with being, I recalled words by T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets, \
"At the still point of the turning world.... Where past and future are gathered....Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance."
While creating this beautiful performance the dancers have stood firm on their own ground. This event was a first draft of a dance performance drawn from a three year dance project led by Karen Jamieson which engaged residents of the Downtown Eastside in the process of dance creation. The culminating performance of this project will take place in July, 2008. The dancers, therefore, have been working with Karen Jamieson for two years, and they have one more year to go. They, and the musicians who accompanied them, have created a caring community of their own, and we in the audience could feel the strength and joy of it. It was fun to be part of this positive energy, and to hear the words of the children's song, "If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise." And the surprise is life more abundant - beautiful, caring life, and we in the Downtown Eastside, although we know a lot about pain and sorrow, can show the rest of Vancouver the beauty and caring that is here in Vancouver's oldest community with its long history of struggle for dignity and human rights. Thank you to all the people who created the dance performance called "STAND YOUR GROUND."