A family-run production, Dancers of Damelahamid, brings together a collaboration of various Aboriginal dance forms and innovative ideas and technology in their new production, Flicker.
Nigel Grenier, dancer and performer, says Flicker continues some of the threads of previous dance productions, such as Spirit and Transformation: using music to tell a story. Rather than shorter dances and music pieces, Flicker offers the audience a continuous storyline from beginning to end.
“The main character in Flicker goes on a journey and sees some different experiences on the way and seeks guidance from different beings as represented in the piece,” says Grenier, 23.
The production partnered with Toronto-based multimedia artist, Andy Moro, to help create an animated video backdrop of nature and other Native elements.
“As a performer, it’s always exciting and interesting to do new things, pushing the boundaries of what’s been done before,” says Grenier.
Metaphors and meanings
The name Flicker has a few significant meanings. First, it’s the name of a bird – a woodpecker, says Grenier.
On the tail feathers of a woodpecker are striking orange specks with a distinguished black shape at the end called a “split-U.” Grenier explains the split-U is one of two fundamental design elements (the other being ovoids=ovals) of Pacific Northwest Coast art.
“Flicker reflects a ‘Flicker of light’ and it needs to be nourished,” says Grenier. He reveals that the light is similar to the continuance of the First Nations culture and identity.
“Under a lot of pressure and strain and impacted by influences such as colonial ones [trying to extinguish it]…for us Aboriginal people, we are always trying to nourish that flame,” says Grenier.
It’s also about the potential to learn, seek and see the journey to its end.
“Flicker rather than being made a conversation [about] socio-economic issues, is simply a celebration of contemporary Indigenous issues and all its complexities – just by doing it and being who we are,” saysGrenier.
The multifaceted First Nations identity
Grenier mother’s, Margaret Grenier, founded Dancers of Damelahamid in 2003 in order to acknowledge and respect the legacies of their ancestors and create new songs and dances to be innovative and reflective of the complexities of contemporary Indigenous people.
Grenier, who is from Gitxsan and Cree backgrounds, says Dancers of Damelahamid is a reflection of the different dance forms and training of the dancers involved. The entire team is like family (many of them directly related to him) who has worked together for many years. It’s important to be a part of both backgrounds instead of being exclusive to one.
“[It’s about] opening the door to some of the complexities of how I can live a life that is reflective of both those identities,” he says.
To understand Flicker and Dancers of Damelahamid, Grenier points out that it is important to learn the history of the artistic practice of Northwest Coast dance. The dance originated from a movement in the 1960s after a ban was lifted making it no longer illegal to practice Aboriginal dance.
“There was resurgence in song and dance, which was led by my grandparents’ generation, and a changing context of how these songs and dances were done. It is now done publicly. Before, they were done within specific contexts,” he says.
Flicker won’t necessarily look the way you would expect. The production has a lot of new technology and innovative ways that will change stereotypical ideas people may have of the First Nations art form.
“Each generation has the responsibility of engaging culture in a meaningful way and furthering ideas for future generations. They also have the responsibility to reach out to the mediums that are available but still stay true to the art form,” he says.
Grenier would like to dispel the stereotype that First Nations people are located in a ”generic past” and that they’re not in the present or not modern.
“By being contemporary, we are challenging that stereotype. We are here and always will be,” says Grenier.
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