Choreographing Community

It’s 1989 and Karen Jamieson is sitting in a dark theatre in Ottawa. She is there to take in a range of some of Canada’s best dance, on display as part of the new Canada Dance Festival. Jamieson’s own career is at its peak. Six years earlier she had created Sisyphus, named one of the ten Canadian choreographic masterworks of the twentieth century by Dance Collection Danse in 2003. But sitting there with the lights down, all she can think is “Is this it? Is this what I’ve given my life to?”

Years later Jamieson distinctly remembers that moment of feeling tired and bored. Especially bored. And not just bored by what was onstage, but by dance itself. Something was missing. “If you’re obsessively in love with one thing,” she tells me one afternoon outside her office on the top floor of The Dance Centre in Vancouver, “you have to almost fall out of love before you’re going to open up to other possibilities.”

Those other possibilities are why we’re meeting. She’s a Canadian pioneer in community-engaged dance and I’m curious as to how she came to make work in this way. How has making dance with non-professional community members extended from her own professional practice?

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