Indigenous performers from across Canada are set to take the stage for the 15th anniversary of the Coastal Dance Festival being held at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, B.C. April 20 to April 24.
Hosted by Dancers of Damelahamid, the event is recognized for bringing spirit and tradition to a modern stage.
“We share and present traditional and contemporary dance from within Indigenous communities,” said Margaret Grenier, festival director.
“It is a celebration of Indigenous dance. We have primarily dance artists that are traditional Indigenous dancers from the Northwest Coast, but we also host dancers from across the country and internationally.”
This year’s production will include two throat singers from Iqaluit, a hoop dancer from Ontario, and several performers from Norway and Sweden.
“We are partnering with Nordic Bridges, which is an initiative between the Nordic region and Canada,” said Grenier.
One will be performing traditional singing called Yoik, said Grenier. Throughout history they have lost their traditional dance practices so they approach their stories through contemporary dance.
Allowing a space where old traditions can be performed with a new contemporary feel is the basis for most of the performances at the festival. Theland Kicknosway of Walpole Island, Bkejwanong Territory in Ontario, will perform modern hoop dancing and is looking forward to the experience.
“To the festival I will be bringing my glow in the dark futuristic LED hoops, which is a hoop dance,” said Kicknosway.
“Originally, the hoop dance was a storytelling dance and I have been dancing this style for over 13 years now. I am really looking forward to being able to share my version and my twist to it.”
He went on to tell the story of how when he was only four years old, he watched three-time World Hoop Dance Champion Dallas Arcand.
“I remember for the next coming weeks after his performance, I just couldn’t stop talking about hoop dancing,” said Kicknosway.
Soon after, he approached four women from his community and asked them to help him learn the traditional dance. By the time he was five, he was a hoop dancer.
The 18-year-old has participated in a number of high profile events, including WE Day and the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.
During his time in Dubai, he was introduced to the Coastal Dance Festival organizers and asked if he would attend this year’s event.
“They asked me there if I wanted to come and I said ‘of course’.” He hopes his presence will inspire others to seek their traditions just as Arcand did for him.
“My goal is to inspire other youth and other children by just kind of leading by example and try and be a good healthy role model for them to say there is a lot of doors that can be opened and a lot of doors that we can open ourselves to where we want to go and where we see ourselves. I’m hoping that this is a part of that journey for me.”
In addition to Kicknosway’s performance, there are about 16 other group or solo performers.
The performers are chosen based on a variety of criteria, but Grenier said that most are known within the community and some are return artists.
“Our festival is really a festival that is done in a way that is not about looking for who is premiering a new work or anything like that,” explained Grenier. “It’s about the community, it’s about our artists and we have artists that return year after year and they just become part of our festival community. They represent their nations, their homes and the work they are doing with song and dance.”
A new portion of the festival this year will be the artist sharing series. This series will highlight some of the performers, as well as Elders and other invited guests where they will tell their stories.
It’s like an artist talk, “but a little bit more of an in-depth conversation,” said Grenier. “It will be an opportunity to learn a little bit more about some of our artists, their background, their history.”
The speakers are invited to discuss the impact of lost practices in their community and how the resurgence of their history is evident in their individual work.
In order for the festival to capture these stories it was important for all ages to participate in the series.
“We have youth and we have Elders, so it’s very intergenerational,” Grenier said. “For the artist sharing we wanted to talk a little bit about a few different aspects of our art forms because, even though this is a dance festival, we are visual artists, we make our own regalia and we’re also story tellers and singers.”
Culture, history and art will tie the variety of performances and teachings together during the festival, which Grenier said has been the focus for the past 15 years.