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Next up in our Discover Dance! series is the Dancers of Damelahamid. We sat down with Executive and Artistic Director Margaret Grenier to discuss the company, its importance in a historical and cultural context, and what we can expect at the upcoming performance.
Tell us about the Dancers of Damelahamid
The Dancers of Damelahamid began in the 1960s after the Potlatch Ban was lifted. My parents Chief Kenneth Harris and Margaret Harris founded the company through their efforts of song and dance revitalization. It is an intergenerational practice and in 2003 I took over the leadership of the Dancers of Damelahamid, working with my husband Andrew Grenier. In 2010 we began to choreograph and compose new songs and dances grounded within our ancestral art forms. In 2016 we premiered Flicker, which was the company’s first multimedia production, which was followed by Mînowin in 2019.
How has your own career path in dance unfolded?
It was our parents’ generation that ensured that we have song and dance today and our generation was the first generation to grow up with song and dance from our earliest memories. Dance has cultivated for me my identity as an Indigenous person and connected me to family and community. I came to the understanding as an adult, that dance was what was most important for me and my children and so I dedicated myself to deepening my understanding of the practice. When my father passed away in 2010, I came to realize that it was not my role to continue their efforts by trying to accomplish what they did in their time, but to define myself in the practice. This led to the creation of new works with contemporary approaches.
Who have been the most influential people in your career, and why?
Most certainly my parents and the Elders that I have had the privilege to learn from have been the most influential people in shaping the values and worldview that define my artistic practice. I would also say that our children are equally influential. It is my hope for their generation that compels me to continue to strive to offer all that I can to this artistic process. It is my hope for them that causes me to confront colonial structures and share space through artistic expression that nurtures the cultural and self-esteem of our young people.
Tell us about the work you’ll be sharing for Discover Dance!
The Dancers of Damelahamid will be sharing from our Spirit and Tradition production. It is a dance piece that reflects this intergenerational practice and the worldviews and values carried by this dance form. Spirit and Tradition reminds us of the importance of caring for our waters, lands, and resources and to honour what has been instilled by our Elders. We have shared these dances when touring to places such as Peru, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Australia and throughout Turtle Island. It is a dance piece that has allowed us to connect to audiences of all ages and be part of cross-cultural dialogue that has served to deepen our understanding of what it means to live by these teachings.
What would you like the wider public to know about the dances of Indigenous peoples in Canada?
There is so much depth and diversity in the dances of Indigenous peoples throughout the Northwest Coast and across these lands. Dance is a beautiful way to appreciate the contemporary and ancestral stories of Indigenous peoples. Dance also allows us a way to connect with our hearts to one another and, in doing so, offers an essential path forward.
What is your next project?
Our next project is Raven Mother, which will premiere in 2024. Raven Mother speaks to the essential role of our mothers, past, present, and future, in the strengthening of this dance form. It honours the generation that revitalized dance on the Northwest Coast. For our family, it was our mother Elder Margaret Harris, who passed away in 2020, who was pivotal in our family’s dance practice, as the woman whose vision carried the Dancers of Damelahamid forward for over five decades.
The Dance Centre presents the Discover Dance! series
Dancers of Damelahamid
Thursday March 30, 2023 | 12 noon
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Listen to Margaret on The Dance Centre Podcast
Photos by Chris Randle
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