Flicker magnifies indigenous dance in a multimedia performance

Flicker fuses the traditional with the modern.

Culture is always evolving, ‘flickering’ between what it was and what it is becoming.

Dancers of Damelahamid carefully negotiate this in-between space in their new work Flicker, which premiered at the Cultch Historic Theatre on May 25. The work is named after the flicker, a woodpecker frequently pictured in indigenous art. The show weaves a narrative through a multimedia performance, combining indigenous dance in traditional Gitxsan regalia with projected environments of light and sound.

I chatted with artistic director Margaret Grenier about the upcoming show. She explained that Flicker has been a two-year process, involving more collaborators than the company has ever worked with before. In particular, working with theatre production artist Andy Moro on videography and lighting design has opened up the work visually, strengthening the dance’s ability to communicate its stories.

The innovative choreography in Flicker fuses contemporary, indigenous dance with powwow and coastal dances. Its hybridity reflects the intersecting cultural identity of many First Nations families, including Grenier’s background of both Gixtan and Cree heritage.

Grenier noted that the collaboration with dramaturge Charles Koroneho has been influential to the dancers’ process. Koroneho’s own career as a Maori performing artist, trained in both traditional dance and Western contemporary, brought an outside voice to the piece. This allowed the Dancers of Damelahamid to reflect on their own practice and step boldly into new places.

In its essence, Flicker has not broken from the indigenous dance form. However, its use in a highly multimedia performance raises questions — how can an indigenous artist maintain the essence of a cultural dance form while creating something new? Grenier explained that the use of cultural dance must begin with a true understanding of the form itself, received from the older generations. Only from there can one begin to take artistic risks.

Flicker is a work of intersection between past and present. Ancient forms of movement magnified by videography and lighting meet onstage in performance to perhaps forge new narratives.