Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Coastal Dance Festival in British Columbia will still be held in 2021.
But festival organizers have decided to make the 14th annual event a virtual one this year.
The festival, presented by the Dancers of Damelahamid, has traditionally been staged at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
For the past two years, festival organizers added a second venue, the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, B.C., to stage some of the presentations.
But this year’s event, which runs March 12 to March 18, will be held entirely online.
The festival, which began in 2008, is a celebration of not only the dances but also the songs and stories of the Indigenous peoples of the northwest coast in North America.
Margaret Grenier, the festival’s artistic and executive director, said organizers began discussions last spring about various ways in which to continue on with the festival this year.
“We’ve been going through a number of plans throughout the year,” she said, adding thoughts were given to having in-person events with a limited number of spectators based on provincial regulations. “As we headed into the fall we decided it would be best to have a virtual one.”
One of the highlights of this year’s festival will be the world premiere of a performance by the Dancers of Damelahamid, a group co-founded in 1967 by Grenier’s parents, Chief Kenneth Harris and Margaret Harris.
The dance company, based in West Vancouver, has shared First Nations culture throughout the world since its inception.
Its performance at the Coastal Dance Festival next month will be in honour of Margaret Harris, who passed away last July.
Kenneth Harris, who passed in 2010, was an Elder and the Head Chief of the Royal Dakhumhast House, part of the traditional territories of Gitxsan Nation in British Columbia.
Besides being the founders of the Dancers of Damelahamid, Margaret and Kenneth Harris also created the Coastal Dance Festival.
The couple were inducted into Canada’s Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame in 2019.
Grenier believes it’s only fitting to celebrate her mother’s accomplishments with a tribute performance at this year’s festival.
“We knew we would be working on something to celebrate the impact she had,” Grenier said.
The Dancers of Damelahamid tribute for Harris was filmed at the Anvil Centre but will be shown publicly for the first time at the festival.
Grenier said there was hope to have a celebratory event in her mother’s honour this July to mark the one-year anniversary of her death.
“We were hoping by July 2021 we could have some sort of in-person gathering,” Grenier said. “We realize even that will not be possible.”
In recent years about 3,000 spectators had been attending performances at the festival.
But Grenier is not sure how many people will tune in for this year’s virtual festivities.
“It’s hard to say because we’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “But we’re going to be hopefully connecting to a broader audience because it is online this year.”
All events for this year’s festival will be free. More information is available at https://damelahamid.ca/coastal-dance-festival
Grenier believes it was important to have the festival continue this year, albeit in a virtual format.
“There was a feeling people were looking forward to it and wanting to have some type of sharing,” she said.
This included some of the performers, who have not had an opportunity to dance at a live event since the 2020 festival.
“Some dancers haven’t worn their regalia since last February,” Grenier said.
The lineup for this year’s festival includes several other Vancouver area performers. They are North Vancouver’s Chinook Song Catchers and Spakwus Slolem, as well as youth artists Casey James and Demetrius Paul, who are both from Vancouver.
Also taking part are Git Hayetsk Dancers from Terrace, B.C. and Yisya’winuxw Dancers from Alert Bay, B.C.
Out-of-province performers include the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers from Whitehorse and David Boxley, an Alaskan visual artist/carver who now lives in Seattle.
Grenier said the festival traditionally features about twice as many performers as there will be this year.
“We’re just trying to present an opportunity for some songs and dance,” she said of the scaled-down online format.
Because the festival will be held virtually this year, performers will not be travelling to Vancouver. Instead, they will simply perform from their own communities.
Grenier said this will also provide the opportunity for the performers to do something unique. Some of them will not only be dancing but they will also be allotted time to share information about their communities while also providing mini-tours of some of their local landmarks and attractions.
“That is not something they normally get to do,” Grenier said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.