Photo by Ana Pedrero.

November 24, 2020

Margaret Grenier, choreographer, dance artist, Executive and Artistic Director of Dancers of Damelahamid, and Producer and Director of the annual Coastal Dance Festival, is the winner of the ​2020 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.​ The $50,000 prize, administered and presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievement by a Canadian professional artist in music, theatre or dance.

Grenier was trained from a very young age in traditional Gitxsan dance by her parents, Kenneth and Margaret Harris, 2019 Dance Collection Dance Hall of Fame inductees, who in the 1960s, formed the Indigenous dance company that is now named Dancers of Damelahamid.

Here is an excerpt from our recent conversation:

Your parents formed the company with the aim of preserving the song and dance of your ancestors, The Gitxsan people. What are your aims for the company today?

My job is not just to continue what my parents started but to also meet the challenge of helping to redefine our stories and communicate them outside of our traditional spaces. When we do this we are stepping into a space that is a stranger to what we are sharing, and that is a challenge. It hasn’t been a long period of time when this company has been sharing works at mainstream venues such as The Cultch in Vancouver, where we performed Flicker​ in 2016, and ​Mînowin​ in 2019. During our recent tours in Canada, at many such mainstream venues, it was the first time in which an indigenous work had been presented there. I feel very emotional that we are experiencing this change. There are a number of presenters who have supported this but it has also been a long time coming. 

Recent works ‘Flicker’ and ‘​Mînowin​‘ incorporate multimedia. Does that mark an evolution of the dance form?

Our dance form is a masked dance form in which performers are often adorned in regalia. The feast halls in which the performances took place were often equipped with trap doors and accommodated the use of smoke in order to achieve certain visual effects. So the current use of multimedia is not that much of a jump from the traditional approach. Multimedia is used in the performances of our company to support the narrative, as well as the vocabulary and symbols used in our dance. 

Grenier as the masked dancer in centre. Photo by Anna Springate-Floch.