- The Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, presented by Dancers of Damelahamid at the Museum of Anthropology, March 6-10. Events include signature evening performances, afternoon festival stage events and school workshops. Tickets, schedule and info: damelahamid.ca/coastal-dance-festival.
IN the 1960s, North Vancouver resident Margaret Grenier's parents, Ken and Margaret Harris, then living in Prince Rupert and of the Gitxsan Nation, launched a family-based dance group to redevelop and preserve the songs and dances of their ancestry in the younger generation.
"It was after the Potlatch Ban was lifted that a lot of work in the communities began to take place to revitalize the artistic practices in the culture," says Grenier, 40.
Interested in sharing and celebrating their culture with the wider community, her parents also launched the long-running Haw yah hawni nah Festival, which brought together different dancers from the Northwest Coast in an annual celebration.
In the 1980s, her mother and father moved to Vancouver and through the efforts of the next generation, both their inter-generational dance group and festival have endured.
Now known as Dancers of Damelahamid, the professional Aboriginal dance company is based on the North Shore and at its helm is Grenier, who took over for her parents in 2002 and serves as artistic and executive director.
Growing up, Grenier's involvement in the group instilled in her the importance of cultural identity within families as well as the benefits of sharing one's traditions across cultures. She's proud that her own children, active members of Dancers of Damelahamid, have been provided with that same learning opportunity.
"They really are taking on a lot more of the leading roles within the dances so that's really nice to see," she says of her 15-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son.
The members of Dancers of Damelahamid are gearing up for the 2013 edition of the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, a continuation of the former Prince Rupert Haw yah hawni nah Festival.
Launched in Vancouver in 2008 as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, the annual Lower Mainland event is organized by Dancers of Damelahamid in partnership with the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology, which serves as the host venue.
"There's the opportunity of bringing together such a beautiful variety of artists from all along the coast for audiences to witness and have this wonderful community experience," says Grenier, who serves as festival director. "But I also think that from the artist perspective it really is a wonderful opportunity of supporting one another, of coming together in a way that's a celebration, that inspires one another and that really is building a community as well within the artists that are coming back year after year to the festival and bringing in new artists to that community as well."
This year's Coastal First Nations Dance Festival is set for March 6-10 and will feature performances by a host of Aboriginal artists from the Northwest Coast of North America. Program highlights include signature evening performances, afternoon festival stage events and school workshops.
"We've created a context where there's so much respect and honouring for one another in what's being shared so it becomes a very comfortable place to share in a very deep way so I find that to be really very beautiful. I always feel very honoured by the artists that come and present at the festival," says Grenier.
Signature evening performances ($25/$20) are being held Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9 at 7: 30 p.m. The Friday program features performances by: Dancers of Damelahamid; Spakwus Slolem, Squamish; Alex Wells, Lil'wat; Git Hayetsk, Nisga'a/Tsimshian; and Nukariik, Inuit. Saturday night's lineup includes: Dancers of Damelahamid; Kwakwaka'wakw Dancers; Git Hoan, Tsimshian; and Rainbow Creek Dancers, Haida.
"This is our second year of having two evening events and so it's really nice that we're able to bring more artists into the evenings by having two different performance schedules," says Grenier.
She's pleased that a number of artists are making their festival debut this year, including hoop dancer Alex Wells and Nukariik (sisters Karin and Kathy Kettler), who will demonstrate Inuit throat singing.
"I find it really exciting when we get to bring in traditions that are outside of the Northwest Coast genre and really share in a little bit more of a broader way with the other dancers that are coming in as well," she says.
More informal festival stage performances, included with a regular museum admission, are being presented March 9 and 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. Scheduled performers on Saturday include: Tsatsu Stalqayu Coast Wolf Pack, Musqueam; Kwhlii Gibaygum, Nisga'a; Dakhká Khwáan, Carcross/Tagish; Alex Wells; and Git Hoan. Sunday performers include: Compaigni V'ni Dansi, Métis; Kwakwaka'wakw Dancers; Dakhká Khwáan, Carcross/Tagish; Git Hayetsk; and Chinook Song Catchers, Squamish.
"It gives the audience the opportunity to come to the Great Hall and watch some performances and then also be able to explore the galleries," says Grenier.
Another popular component of the festival are school performances, being presented March 6-7 this year, and geared toward elementary and secondary school groups.
"They're basically an opportunity for schools to come and do a field trip to the Museum of Anthropology and see live performances," says Grenier.
In addition to the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, members of Dancers of Damelahamid are scheduled to make their first appearance at the 13th annual Vancouver International Dance Festival that's running from March 2-23 (vidf.ca). They'll perform March 14, 15 and 16 at The Roundhouse at 7 p.m.