Dance Days begins with intriguing Flicker



What: Flicker (Dancers of Damelahamid)

Where: McPherson Playhouse

When: January 19

By Adrian Chamberlain

Something that’s always intrigued me about traditional art forms is the question of how they can be kept alive and relevant in the modern age.

It can be a tricky proposition. Do you want a earnest museum piece? Do you want a work that only fleetingly – and perhaps glibly – references the past?

As  a musician, you may love bebop or Dixieland — but how do you make this music burn as fiercely 2018 as it  did the past? In a technological age, is representational painting passé, a mere footnote from the past? Or is there something intrinsically timeless about this style of art?

On Friday night, Dance Victoria launched its  Dance Days festival  with Flicker,  a 70-minute multi-media work by Dancers of Damelahamid. They’re  North-West Coast  indigenous dance troupe with a fascinating past.

Damelahamid was founded in the late 1960s by Ken and Margaret Harris. They wanted to preserve Gitxsan dances  outlawed by Canadian’s national potlatch ban, which started in 1885 and continued (amazingly ) to 1951. Today the company is led by their daughter, Margaret Grenier. A family company, Damelahamid’s aim is to create dances with one foot in tradition and the other stepping boldly towards the future.

Choreographed by Grenier, Flicker follows the journey of a young man (danced by Margaret’s son Nigel Grenier) who sets out on a hunting trip. Along the journey he encounters mountain goats, siren-like forest songs and an ancient chief who takes him on a canoe trip. Their canoe is sucked into a whirlpool (a wonderful scene using underwater video and streamers cascading from ceiling to stage). The chief transforms into a sea lion who saves the young man.

Along the way the man is watched over by the  red-costumed flicker, a mysterious character inspired by the Northern Flicker woodpecker.

Watching the performance was akin witnessing a ritual. Typically, the  pacing was very slow by contemporary dance standards, almost meditative, replete with repeated movements. There is a sense of history here. At the same time Flicker is a firmly contemporary work. Much credit goes to designer Andy Moro, whose   images and videos are bold and beautiful. Ditto for the regalia/costume designer  Rebecca Baker, who’s managed a canny blend of old and new.


Bruce McLay, owner of Sasquatch & Cowichan Trading Company (founded in 1947), was the sponsor of the performance. Mr. McLay has a deep respect for First Nations culture.


Dance Days 2018 is a 10-day festival worth checking out. Studios throughout Victoria open their doors to the public – some offering free dance classes. There’s a series of performances, Rough Cuts, at the Metro Studio. Presenting artists include Vanessa Goodman, Daina Ashbee, Meredith Kalaman, German Jauregui and Company 605, Arash Khakpour, Emmalena Fredriksson, Angela Mousseau and Mahaila Patterson-O’Brien.

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