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Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations have echoed right into the British Columbia arts community, recognizing several dance organizations for excellence.
To mark Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne, the Honourable Janet Austin launched the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts and Music Awards earlier this year. The one-off awards recognize individuals, groups and organizations in the province who demonstrate exceptional leadership, creativity, community engagement and commitment through fostering and mentoring others.
According to Geraldine Hinton, a member of the award and selection committee, every Lieutenant Governor has a particular focus, and Austin’s goal has been clear since she was sworn into office in 2018.
“She really has focused on reconciliation, equity, diversity, cross-cultural and intergenerational connections,” said Hinton. “[The Jubilee] seemed really timely and appropriate for her to recognize the arts and outstanding achievements.”
A selection committee was assembled with representatives from different art forms across the province, members of the Platinum Jubilee Awards Committee and of the Government House Foundation. In April, they disseminated a public call for nominees with the help of local arts organizations and foundations in each region. Over a hundred nominees were put forward, and 28 recipients were announced in July.
Among those selected were two dance companies: Ballet Kelowna and Dancers of Damelahamid. Each group received a certificate of acknowledgement and a monetary gift of around $7,000, funded by the BC Government House Foundation.
“Many of the companies were wonderful—the challenge for the jury was to ask what are those things that make one outstanding over the others. We felt that these two organizations really did demonstrate an excellence throughout that makes them unique because of their focus on social equity, equality and inclusion,” said Hinton.
Ballet Kelowna, the only professional dance company in B.C.’s Interior, is taking strides to bring dance closer to the public and make it more inclusive. The company, founded by David LaHay in 2002, has been directed by Simone Orlando (former dancer with Ballet BC and National Ballet of Canada) since 2014. Under her leadership, the company has more than doubled its dancers and increased its audience from eight to twelve thousand people annually, extending its touring network to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
“We are incredibly honoured to receive the award—I think it not only recognizes the work we are doing here in Kelowna but across the province,” said Orlando.
During her tenure, Orlando has expanded the company’s repertoire, adding 35 new works—three to five per season—and developed long-term relationships with local choreographers.
“I have really tried to increase the number of commissioning opportunities that we provided for Canadian choreographers… with a focus on women and BIPOC choreographers,” she said.
This fall, the company is welcoming its first artist-in-residence for the 20th anniversary season, Cameron Fraser-Monroe. The burgeoning choreographer, a member of the Tla’amin First Nation and graduate of Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, draws from his background in Indigenous and classical dance to create contemporary works. He is creating three works with the company this year, including two world premieres of full-length works.
Ballet Kelowna makes a point of touring to smaller and remote communities in B.C., provides accessible ticketing, “pops up” in alternative and public spaces and creates entry-level opportunities for the public to engage with dance through their In Motion program.
Dancers of Damelahamid is an Indigenous dance company based in the Vancouver area of the northwest coast. It was founded in the 1960s by the late Kenneth and Margaret Harris (inducted into the National DCD Hall of Fame in 2019) and is now run by their daughter Margaret Grenier, executive and artistic director.
“It’s really a pleasure to be recognized by this award,” said Grenier. “The work that our company does is very connected to community. We do a lot of work for all ages, with youth, in collaboration with other companies and with Indigenous communities.”
Created in the years after the Potlatch Ban was lifted in 1951, the company’s first focus was the cultural revitalization of Indigenous dance and song. Under Grenier’s direction, it now presents two forms: the intergenerational practice and performance of song and dance, connecting all ages to their Indigenous identity, land and territory, and full-scale professional dance productions that are rooted in Indigenous training and teachings.
“We are not in a place today where the work we are doing is only cultural revitalization of those dances… I believe it is important not only to maintain songs and dances and stories, but to innovate and take contemporary approaches. That is my way of contributing to the practice, to strengthen it for generations to come,” Grenier said.
The professional company (for which Grenier is the main choreographer) employs between five to 12 dancers on a contract basis. This season, they have their third province-wide tour presented by Dance West Network (formerly Made in BC). They hold frequent workshops and outreach initiatives, especially for young audiences. Each year, they host the Coastal Dance Festival, directed and produced by Grenier annually since 2008, which provides an opportunity for Indigenous artists from the West Coast of B.C. and up into the Yukon and Alaska to strengthen their practises.
It is their intergenerational reach, unique perspective and focus on mentorship that led to Dancers of Damelahamid’s selection for the LG Award.
“They have spent years cultivating artistic talent and nurturing a legacy that the Indigenous community has as part of their heritage,” said Hinton. “They were chosen because of that nuanced cultural perspective and how they put it into their wonderful professional productions. We were also looking for mentorship and wellness in an organization—what creates wellness and joy—and we felt they really reflected that.”
In a special convergence this fall, these two companies will come together when Ballet Kelowna partners with the Rotary Centre for the Arts to present Dancers of Damelahamid’s Mînowin. Cameron Fraser-Monroe will be performing in the cast.
Other dance-related organizations recognized by the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts and Music Awards were the Canadian Heritage Arts Society/Canadian College of Performing Arts and The Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver. Recipients met in Victoria in late August for an awards reception.
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