Karen Jamieson’s vision is to reveal the power of dance as an art form with potential to transform, engage, captivate, heal, and to impart knowledge available only to the dancing body; believing the power of contemporary dance transcends cultures, languages, histories and traditions by connecting us all at a very primal level.
Karen Jamieson Dance under the artistic direction of Karen Jamieson was formed in 1983. Karen has created over 100 original dance works with original scores by over 20 respected Canadian composers, performed in Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States. Her work, Sisyphus was named one of the 10 Canadian choreographic masterworks of the 20th century and multi-year projects with the Haida village of Skidegate BC and with the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are recognized nationally as groundbreaking in the field of community engaged and cross cultural dance.
1983 – 2019
To reveal the power of dance as an art form with potential to transform, engage, captivate, heal, and to access knowledge available only to the dancing body. Believing that dance connects us all at a very primal level, the company’s creations explore contemporary dance as a vehicle for transformation. This dance practice seeks to develop physical language to speak to our humanity, a “physical poetry” that connects through the embodied spirit.
Under the artistic direction of Karen Jamieson: To support the practice, research, creation, and production of dance, and archiving of work which includes the passing on of dance practices and ideas to emerging generation of artists.
The Beginning – Karen Jamieson Dance was founded in 1983. The initial mandate of the company was to discover the elemental structure of dances that speak a mythic, poetic language. Works from this period received significant critical and audience acclaim and earned KJD a respected place within the dance community.
Change – The latter part of 1990’s and early part of this century were difficult years. Paradoxically, it was one of profound learning, artistic growth, extremely risky experimentation and a deepening of my commitment to and understanding of the art form itself. I began to experience a greatly expanded vision of what dance could be and my role within the art form. I began to create works that sought, through tutelage with Indigenous elders, to envision a post-colonial dance, dance as a force for social change, a vehicle to communicate between cultures and communities. I emerged from this time with a new perspective that informed all subsequent work and an expanded vision of the company. But this period continued to present difficulties. Though excited by the emerging work, I struggled to find support and a place within the professional dance community for this new vision and struggled to reconcile the direction of my stage based work and this compelling but uncharted new direction which would prove to become community based dance and cross cultural collaboration.
Rebuilding – In 2005, Karen and the KJD Board began a period of rebuilding the company to create a structure capable of housing and connecting the different arenas dance practice in which this company had been creating, from staged works, site specific and non-staged productions, community engagement, and cross cultural collaborative work which, at times, entered the arena of ritual and ceremony. The rebuilding project was driven by a central focus; to integrate the different practices of the company into a single identity emanating from a core vision. The company spent 4 years implementing strategies to support this new phase and direction.
New Era – The Rebuilding era of the company culminated in a remarkable resurgence and stabilization. The research and creation of solo|soul, (2012-2014) opened new investigative methods and new creations: The Trickster and light breaking broken, community engaged work in the DTES, commissions with emerging choreographers and the emergence of The Legacy Project - all infused KJD with excitement, life and momentum. An important component to KJD’s work today is The Legacy Project; an umbrella program for programs that preserve and pass on Karen’s life’s work.
Recognition – In 2003, Sisyphus (1983), was named one of Canada’s top 10 choreographic masterworks of the 20th century by Dance Collection Danse magazine. Projects such as the work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (The Carnegie Dance Troupe), The River, Gawa Gyani, Stone Soup, and the Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance, are recognized nationally as ground-breaking in the field of Community Engaged and Cross Cultural Collaboration. The company has produced over 100 original works with original scores commissioned from over 20 respected Canadian composers. Karen was the recipient of the 1980 Chalmers Award for Choreography, the BC 125 Award, 2013 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, 2016 Isadora Award and was an inaugural inductee into the Canadian Encore! Dance Hall of Fame in 2018.
Solo From Chaos
Premier: National Arts Centre Dance In Canada Conference, Ottawa, 1982
In the work Solo from Chaos I was interested in finding a spatial expression for the idea of descent and ascent. I was looking for ways to create a sense of a layered universe that the dancer traveled through on her descent and a physical language to differentiate the different levels or stages of the descent. The use of the ladder was a practical way to convey the sense that the work was taking place in the vertical dimension. The other was the use of spirals – huge spirals that sucked the dancer down, spirals that shot her back up. The use of breath through Ahmed’s brilliant score was central to the work with its inside out and outside in focus.
Sisyphus was first created in 1983 as part of Vancouver Dance Week with score by David MacIntyre and later was included in the official premiere of the Karen Jamieson Dance Company in February 1984. Dance Collection Danse has named Sisyphus one of the ten choreographic masterpieces of the twentieth century. Through the Greek myth of Sisyphus this dance gives a “…unique, pared-down language that synthesizes form and idea…giving visible shape to the idea of human indomitability in the face of impossible odds. We are touched, saddened, thrilled”. Max Wyman
1985 Vancouver Dance Week, Vancouver Playhouse
Who should lead and who should follow and is it necessary to have a leader? These are the questions that have haunted me throughout my dance making career. The Roadshow is an investigation into leadership, into hierarchy and dominance and the individual versus the group, and a microphone. Each time the protagonist reaches the microphone she is sucked back into the chaos of the group. Each time she is engulfed, a different energy and dynamic prevails, sometimes violent, sometimes lyric and flowing, often broken up movement phrases. The group reveals to her different answers to the central questions – sometimes she is forced to watch, sometimes she becomes a willing participant.
Premiere New Music New Dance Festival 1987
This work, for 4 women and one man, explores the relationship of energy and form. Drive investigates how energy can beget form through resistance, going against gravity, images of adversity and conflict. The work sought to give form to the energy of violence without violent action, juxtaposing simultaneously with a sense of life energy and of joyous vitality. The costumes contributed to the shaping of the work as a wild and joyous battle of energies.
Premiere Vancouver Playhouse 1990
Over the course of the performance, under the intense heat of the stage lights, a layer of wet clay on the skin of the performer. This brings into relief a myriad of lines and fissures, invisible to the eye when the clay was wet, now as clearly delineated as a dry riverbed in drought. This process resonates as metaphor for the relentless transformation of our bodies through time. Mudwoman is a meditation on the body as a temporal garment, subject to time and the transformation processes of aging.
Premiere National Gallery of Canada 1990, Canada Dance Festival
A commission from National Gallery of Canada to create a site-specific work to accompany a show on Emily Carr, lead to the creation of Passage. The goal of the work was to develop the dancers as conduits for the spirit of the architectural space by Moshe Safdie, and discover how the audience could encounter this spirit through their own bodies as they occupied the same space as the dancers. The company was given a four-week residency in the gallery to create the work on site, followed by a two-week performance run. Through the role of the guards, Passage provided the first experience of the power and potential of community dance and initiated a major shift in the focus of KJD work.
Premiere Vancouver Playhouse 1991
Mixk’ Aax was forerunner to Gawa Gyani. At the time of the premiere of the work, we had not yet received permission to name our choreography Gawa Gyani. Permission was required, by Gitksan law, from the House of G’onou and Edgar Good, who owned this hereditary name and Nox Nox spirit of the same name. The whole piece was focused on this concept of Gawa Gyani, meaning a ceremony whereby two sides come together to resolve important differences in a neutral space. But without permission, we could not use the name.
Oracles of Innocence
Premiere Vancouver Playhouse 1991
A dance work for the 8-member Karen Jamieson Dance Company, Oracles of Innocence was a visionary prelude, foretelling the Company’s collaboration with First Nations artists. It is a celebration of cultures – icons form Western, Asian and indigenous cultures appear in a space where conflict, sensuality and innocence are equally at home. Here, black humour and parody co-exist alongside a genuine spirit of play. A companion piece to Mixk"Aax, this work toured extensively on its own. Oracles of Innocence represents the first stage of a longer journey. Here, influences are felt but not yet understood; voices are heard but the speakers are not yet present. It is a premonition of change.
Premiere May 1992 Vancouver Playhouse
The work investigates the weight of the body as a metaphor for the spirit. I was interested in the fact that one person carrying another has great emotional resonance. I wondered what would happen if a woman carried a man. After initial research with Byron Chief Moon - Catherine Lubinsky and Hiromoto Ida brought the work to completion. The piece grew to become a work of great power and toured extensively. At the Canadian Festival of Modern Dance in Winnipeg it was hailed by critics as a “brave and unforgettable dance, danced with total commitment” Winnipeg Free Press
Community Engaged & 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.
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.
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 3 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 intended legacy of this project was 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. Following this conclusion of this project we created the program Dance In & For the Community to represent all the community work of this company (past, present & future) - the current project under this banner is Dance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside - a progression of The Carnegie/Firehall Community Project
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
Dance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside - Procession of Performing Circles, Techno Carnegie, Listen, CONNECT In Progress, CONNECT, HERE (showing), HERE (In Progress), Metamorphose - (2005-present) - An ongoing program of dance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that started as The Carnegie/Firehall Community Project and the creation of Stand Your Ground and Stand Your Ground II. The community dancers have developed into The Carnegie Dance Troupe.