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Canada Council for the
Arts-Artists and Communities Collaboration Program

Karen Jamieson and the Skidegate Project

Final Project Report submitted by Nathalie Macfarlane
February 6, 2005

 

Introduction

The following is the final report on the Karen Jamieson Skidegate Project initiated in February 2003. A progress report was submitted in February 2004 outlining the principal project events to that date as well as an assessment of the achievements and challenges of the work from the perspective of community collaboration.

The following report presents a chronology of the project from beginning to the final performance in Skidegate on January 22, 2005. The report strives to assess the project in terms of the artist’s original objective: through the artist’s practice and medium of dance, to honour Percy Gladstone (1911-1982), a respected Haida ancestor, and to involve his community in the process of creating and performing the work.

Project Chronology and Evolution

1996- Jamieson travels to Skidegate touring Stone Soup. She meets and engages Haida dancers in the performance.

2002- Jamieson creates a dance performance as part of the Spirit Concert at the Chan Centre in Vancouver. The piece is a tribute to Percy Gladstone, a life-influencing figure in Jamieson’s formative years. Haida dancers, carvers and costume designers are engaged.

February 2003 - Jamieson is invited to the Q’adasgo qiigawaay clan dinner in Skidegate and presents her request to create a dance performance honouring Percy Gladstone with the involvement of the community. The concept is accepted. Jamieson works to form an advisory committee the appropriate community members. There is general agreement that the work will culminate in a performance in Skidegate.

August 2003-Jamieson returns to Skidegate for 1 week to keep up work with new advisory committee. Individuals who might play lead roles as dancers, carvers etc. are solicited. Issues related to family versus clan involvement begin to affect the process of community involvement. In Haida terms, a production that encompasses song, dance and the honouring of an ancestor is rooted in the clan system. Jamieson strengthens her links with Percy Gladstone’s clan and with the community’s cultural institutions, including the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program and the museum.

November 2003 - Jamieson comes to Skidegate for 2 weeks with a thematic framework for the work based on discussions with community members and research. The performance or dance piece would incorporate 3 interwoven themes: the journey of self-discovery of a contemporary young Haida woman; the story or presence of Percy Gladstone, a historical hero; and the supernatural creation story of the Haida world and the origins of Percy Gladstone’s clan.

First attempts at creating dance forms are made. It proves difficult to find a meeting ground between Haida and western dance forms. There is reluctance on the part of the Haida dancers to take on new forms of expression. Haida dancers insist that songs are inextricably linked to dance and that there must be songs to dance. Songs have their own cultural protocols. They are owned by chiefs, individuals and clans. Karen seeks advice from elders on the use of songs and researches song collections held at the museum and at SHIP.

Jamieson has secured funding to video the project and provide training for a Haida individual in a videography course in Vancouver.

January 2004 - Jamieson returns to Skidegate for 5 days with a 5-minute video documenting different aspects of the project’s planning as well as an outline of the proposed themes for the production. The video provides community members with a tangible point of departure to both reflect on the process and make decisions on how to proceed. Issues raised earlier in the project, including the role of Percy Gladstone’s clan and the need to incorporate songs in the performance are clarified. Jamieson is successful in engaging a wider circle of participants and the input of virtually all of the community’s cultural resources. The Q’adasgo qiigawaay clan takes on ownership of the project and a few of the clan matriarchs begin assisting in organizing community meetings and keeping up momentum for the project. The clan suggests that the performance be presented at the next clan feast to be held in January 2005.

Karen makes contact and begins collaborating with the Skidegate Children’s Dance Group, the only formalized dance organization in the village. The January community sessions were pivotal in terms of redirecting the course of the project and securing the commitment of the clan, the Skidegate Children’s Dance Group and the key performers in the work.

August 2004 - Karen returns for research and recruitment. She conducts further research on Haida songs and travels to Massett to consult with a contemporary Haida song writer, Vernon Williams and an accomplished Haida dancer, Don Edenshaw. Both agree to contribute to the production.

Karen continues to seek direction from the community on the use of song in the performance given that songs are deeply embedded in Haida concepts of ownership. The words to a song belonging to the Q’adasgo qiigawaay clan are discovered in the archives. Unfortunately there is no music attached to it and the clan does not have a clan song as do some others. It becomes clear to Jamieson during the August visit that her objective to incorporate modern dance forms in the production would probably not be realized. Haida dancers were not willing to step outside of the bounds of traditional dance. She begins to envision the production as more of a pageant, rather than a strictly choreographed dance piece. The “pageant” format would allow Haida performers to express their dances within a less foreign context than what modern dance allowed and at the same time permit the introduction of new dramatic intervals necessary to convey the story of Percy Gladstone’s life and his ancestral roots.

In August, Karen also meets with carver, Clayton Gladstone, to review progress with 3 masks and a speaker’s staff commissioned for the production.

October 2004 - In October, Karen returns to Skidegate with a draft script for the choreography of the “Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance”. Over the next several days, the cast for the production begin initial practices and rehearsals of the choreography. It is a painstaking process during which the cast, lead performers and other community advisors “negotiate” with Karen over the details of suggested performances and draw on a Haida repertoire of performance possibilities to replace any troublesome sequences. Nonetheless, the result is a revised script and choreography that all can agree to and move forward on.

The script calls for several testimonies and legends to be given throughout the performance by Percy Gladstone’s descendents, clan leaders and Elders. During the October visit, Karen secures the assistance of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program to prepare texts of 2 Haida origin stories that would be appropriate for the performance.

By October 2004, Haida songwriter, Vernon Williams, has composed 4 new songs for the production, including a clan song for the Q’adasgo qiigawaay. The songs provide a breakthrough with many positive influences on community participation in the event. The songs, at one level, provide legitimacy for the performance. The songs root the performance in a truly Haida context. When the songs were first heard in late October, there was considerable excitement among people in Skidegate who are involved in cultural work at various levels. During the last 10 years, there has been a growing interest within this group in the revival of Haida song and in creating new songs for performances and masks. The fact that new songs had been composed for the performance had the effect of attracting a much wider audience to the final event than might have been the case otherwise.

January 2005 - Karen returns for the final episode of the project and the community performance in Skidegate. Several days of rehearsals take place between January 12th and the community performance date of January 22nd. Masks and costumes are completed. Karen completes a performance program that is sent to Vancouver for printing. A projection system is set up as the backdrop for the performance to include projected images of Percy Gladstone at various stages of his life. Preparations for videotaping are made.

As with all Haida performances, the “Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance” takes place as part of a feast hosted by the Q’adasgo qiigawaay clan for its members. At the conclusion of the feast, dinner tables are cleared from the central part of the Skidegate Community Hall to make room for the performance. The audience is seated at round eating tables around the periphery of the hall as well as in a mezzanine and balconies above. The clan has made it known by word of mouth as well as through formal invitations that everyone in the community is welcome to attend the performance and approximately 160 people attend, considered a large number for any kind of performance event on Haida Gwaii.


The Performance
Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance
January 22, 2005

The performance is made up of 4 acts preceded by a performance of the Wild Man of the Woods who introduces all Haida dramatic events, ushering in the supernatural dimension of what is to take place. Each act is centred on the protagonist’s memories of different layers of Percy Gladstone’s life. The protagonist is the “recollector gathering fragments of memory from family, clan members and origin stories” (as quoted in the program produced by Karen Jamieson for the performance).

Act 1 recreates Percy Gladstone’s life and vision, as a WW2 pilot of fighter bombers; a fisherman and a scholar through song, narrative and 2 dance sequences. The dances include a traditional Haida salmon dance performed with a huge handheld mask. The dance was enhanced in this performance by the addition of a dramatic element showing the netting of a salmon by Gladstone’s fisherman persona. A second new dance created for the performance expresses the combination of Gladstone’s military and scholastic careers danced by 2 of Gladstone’s great nephews wearing military caps and striking academic briefcases with Haida drumsticks. The dance follows the traditional Haida form for a paddle dance performed at a fast tempo.

Act 2 addresses Percy’s many achievements as a scholar, organizer and leader in the aboriginal community. The recollector sings while Percy’s descendants come forward and remember together in a circle. A speaker recalls his achievements. A new dance performed by Karen Jamieson and assistant, Barb Murray is performed accompanied by a new song. The dance symbolizes the Ship of Pestilence and is one of the most powerful episodes in the performance. The 2 dancers carry an 8’ long winged canoe form in which is mounted a revolving mask. The dancers move so as to create the undulating environment of the canoe’s passage, causing the mask to revolve slowly from back to front and side to side. The “ship of pestilence” is a powerful icon in the Haida imagination, symbolizing the arrival of disease and misfortune brought by the white men in their sailing ships. Jamieson has used the symbol to point to the difficulties encountered by Percy Gladstone when he was seriously injured in a car crash and lost the use of his legs. The flying ship dance is followed by a traditional paddle dance performed by the Skidegate Children dancers.

Act 3 focuses on Percy Gladstone’s clan affiliation. Again the recollector sings, the descendants gather in a circle to remember and Elders speaking in Haida tell of the ancestress, Foam Woman who gave birth to the Raven clans. A new Foam Woman song sung by composer Vernon Williams follows together with a presentation of the “Haida Woman” mask, a new mask created for the performance. The performer, considered an accomplished masked dancer in the community strives to personify the mask. She moves through the waves like a spirit struggling to contain her huge powers, virtually trembling and shaking with her energy, occasionally flashing her huge white face at the audience. The clan matriarchs now enter the performance space dancing the crests of their origin: Raven, Wolf, Killer whale, Whale, Thunderbird and Wasco.

Act 4 begins with the last fragments of the recollector’s memories; the Raven Travels story of the creation of the Haida world. Elders recount the story in Haida of how Raven pierced the sky with his beak and then fell spiraling down to the depths of the ocean, from which he emerged to create the world. A new mask is presented during a lively performance of the classical Haida raven dance. The children’s dance group joins in with many miniature ravens imitating the lead performer.

The Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance performance was very well received in Skidegate with approximately 160 people in the audience. Most of the 6 people interviewed following the event assumed that it would be performed in Vancouver in the future. All felt it was a moving and original tribute to Percy Gladstone. Four of the individuals commented on the new dance forms, specifically the “warrior with ideas dance”, the “flying pestilence dance” and the Foam Woman or Ancestress dance. While the first dance was perceived as humorous, the last 2 were regarded as “powerful”, “awe-inspiring”, “and supernatural”. These last 2 dances incorporated masks and props more typical of Haida theatrical technique. All interviewed were extremely impressed with the work of song composer, Vernon Williams as well as his performance.

 

Assessment of Community Participation and Collaboration

Project Context

The project’s beginnings have been discussed in the February 2004 progress report. The artist’s objectives for the Skidegate project, stated previously were:
To honour Percy Gladstone (1911- 1982), a respected Haida ancestor, through her practice and medium of dance and to involve his community in the process of creating and performing the work

The community’s objectives for the project cannot be summarized in a singular statement as the nature of collaboration in the project was based on the participation of individuals, family, clan, and cultural groups, including the Skidegate Children’s Dance Group and the Skidegate Haida Immersion program. Each group or individual had a different level of participation and set of expectations. Karen Jamieson was extremely successful in gaining the participation of a broad spectrum of community participants described below. Although the artist may not have completely met her personal objective to collaborate in the creating of new dance forms with a group of dedicated Haida dancers, she did succeed from the perspective of community, involving the leading cultural impresarios, dancers and song writers in creating a tribute to one of its great ancestors.

Individual Participants - By my own count, approximately 90 individuals from Skidegate and 2 from Old Massett were involved in the project’s conception, production and/or performance. Some were dancers; others were singers, composers, researchers, knowledgeable elders, chiefs, family and clan members. Many of the key performers were solicited directly by the artist because of their previous history with dance and song. Of the 2 dancers interviewed, both expressed a desire to participate in the process for the learning potential as well as an opportunity to perform new roles in Haida dance and theatre.

Family Participants - The Gladstone family, patrilineal descendents of Percy Gladstone’s, was the first point of contact for the artist and first exploration of the concept. Early meetings concerning the project involved mostly family members. Gladys Gladstone, married to PG’s nephew, assumed the role of community coordinator on behalf of the project. Her daughter, Melanie was assigned the role of protagonist or “recollector” for the performance. Percy’s nephews played the 3 personas: the fighter bomber pilot, the scholar and the fisherman. Two of PG’s great nephews danced one of the new dance forms created for the piece and another carved the masks.

Clan Participants - PG’s clan, Q’adasgo Qiigawaay, began to assume a more prominent role in the organization, planning and implementation of the performance project, as a result of consultation with a broader group of project participants. As well, Jamieson’s own background research in preparing the theme and choreography for the performance revealed to her the importance of involving the matrilineal clan in a tribute to PG. The matrilineal clan system is at the heart of Haida social organization and ultimately from where cultural performances and artistic expressions are sourced. Songs and dance are subject to rigorous protocols of ownership governing when a song and dance may be performed and by whom. By January of 2004, Jamieson was faced with dealing with these cultural issues if her work was to be successful. She solicited the clan’s participation and indeed gave over ownership of the project to the clan, and thereby secured their commitment to making the project work. She immediately gained a number of valuable resources. Clan matriarchs presided over dance practices with the children’s group and at preliminary rehearsals, ensuring that people attended and took preparations seriously. The clan’s dancers and woodworkers were positioned in the project. The performance date was set for the clan’s annual dinner held in January or February each year.

Cultural Groups - Two particular community organizations played a vital role in legitimizing Karen’s work in the community and in giving her valuable support. The Skidegate Haida Immersion Program is a Haida language project active in the community for the last 7-8 years. The group is dedicated to teaching the language through daily immersion techniques as well as to recording the language skills held by a handful of speakers and to forever preserve the Haida language. SHIP gave on-going support to Karen by providing her with appropriate stories and written texts to use in the performance and by playing the roles of Haida historians and recollectors within the performance itself.

The Hlgaagilda Dancers (children’s group) also proved to be a strong source of support and dance energy for the project. Led by Jenny Cross, the dance group became a potential participant in January 2004 when it became clearer that the artist’s hopes to collaborate in creating new dance forms with the handful of adult dancers available to the project was not going to materialize as projected. The Children’s Dance Group assumed the role of a dance chorus appearing now and then throughout the performance.

 

Project Structure

The project’s earliest conceptual beginnings were shared primarily between the artist and the Gladstone family. Gladys Gladstone, niece of Percy Gladstone, was the primary community liaison contact for the artist. By early 2003, a community advisory group was struck with Gladys’s assistance, involving a broader spectrum of advisors. Through her own initiative, Karen persisted in bringing in more and more individuals and groups to the process seeking the widest possible involvement from the community. By January 2004, issues involving future ownership of the Performance, its masks and other possible legacies such as songs and dances required attention. At the same time, community consultants were advising Karen that she should seek the clan’s advice on issues of ownership related to the project. The Q’adasgo qiigawaay clan became the principle organizing structure for community involvement by mid 2004, represented primarily by the matriarchs and whatever clan resource people they appointed to the project, including dancers, carpenters and knowledgeable elders. By the fall of 2004, the clan’s role was formalized as producer and the rights to future performances were vested in it through formal agreement.

Project Development

The artist’s original goal was to create a tribute to Percy Gladstone through the medium of modern dance and to work in collaboration with his community to create and produce the piece. The artist originally intended that her knowledge and skills could be transferred to a willing group of Haida dancers and that the final production would be a collaborative synthesis of western and Haida forms of dance expression. Through the process, both the artist and Haida dancers would benefit from mutual skill and knowledge exchange. Jamieson pursued this goal until early 2004 when it became clear that Haida dancers were not prepared to explore the kinds of physical expression embodied in modern dance. They were prepared to perform classical Haida dance routines and adapt new performances for new masks. However, the fundamental differences between Haida dance as primarily a dramatic and theatrical form intended to express transformation, versus modern dance as an expression of the body in movement did not find a true resolution. Jamieson demonstrated tremendous flexibility and compassion in her ability to turn the project around and allow the Haida context for performance to prevail. She actively sought to incorporate the song element, so essential to traditional Haida dance performances, and brought about one of the project’s most creative outcomes, the composition of 4-6 new Haida songs. The draft choreography she produced in October 2004 became the basis for the true collaborative work and Karen opened it to negotiation both with the performers and with advisory groups including Elders at SHIP and clan representatives. The proposed dance sequences were revised and worked on until agreement could be reached on every aspect of how the work was to be presented.

The final performance is a genuine and successful collaboration between a dancer/choreographer in the western tradition and a large group of Haida artists, composers, singers and dancers supported by their clan, Elders and prescribed performance traditions. The performance embodies western notions of structure, piecing the performance into scenes or acts. As well, the concept of a protagonist/recollector appearing in a recurring dance/song chorus in every act is derived from western classical dance. Several of the dance sequences were choreographed by Karen, including the recollector’s chorus movements; the Briefcase Brigade; the Flying Ship of Pestilence, and the Haidajaad/Foam Woman mask dance. How the dances were played out in the final performance was the result of collaboration and negotiation during the final week of rehearsals. Few of the dances, excepting perhaps the Ship of Pestilence, danced by Karen and assistant, Barb Murray revealed the incorporation of any physical concepts of modern dance.

 

Project Outcomes


• The project resulted in a well attended one-time performance in Skidegate involving a broad array of community participation and satisfaction with the final event.

• The project successfully engaged the community’s cultural resources and the participation of leading dancers, singers, and Haida Elders.

• The artist was successful in meeting her goal to create a work of tribute to Percy Gladstone that involved his community of origin in its creation and production.

• The artist successfully addressed the myriad of observances and protocols associated with Haida cultural events and the performance of song and dance without alienating anyone or any organization in the process.

• The artist successfully guided the project’s organization into the hands of Percy Gladstone’s clan, the most appropriate cultural agency to assume this role.

• The artist experienced a true, if sometimes painful, cultural immersion experience in carrying out the work, learning the origins and conditions of Haida performance arts as well as gaining exposure to the Haida imagination as revealed in the oral histories and songs used in the performance and through her consultations with Elders.

• The dancers who worked with her expressed appreciation for the experience when interviewed (4 were interviewed). None see the possibility of pursuing modern dance as a career, but 2 expressed interest in working to create new Haida dances as a result of the experience. All look forward to being part of a possible performance of the Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology later in 2005.

• Several individuals who served as researchers and advisors to the project (3 were consulted) were inspired by the performance and see the possibility of taking song and dance to a new level of practice beyond the context of potlatches and feasts.

• In honouring Percy Gladstone, Karen Jamieson contributed a legacy to the community of Skidegate, including the production of new songs, new dances, new masks and the commemoration of the achievements of an accomplished Haida ancestor.

• The high level of participation in the project (90 individuals in a community of 600) is testimony to the success of the artist’s ability to enter into a true collaboration with the community of Skidegate.