Karen Jean Jamieson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Karen Jean Jamieson

After graduating with a BA in anthropology and philosophy from the University of British Columbia, Karen Jamieson studied dance at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC.

Karen Jean Jamieson

 Karen Jean Jamieson, choreographer, dancer, teacher (b at Vancouver 10 Jul 1946). Karen Jamieson strives to forge a new choreographic language in which she can explore mythological and universal concerns, redefining the place of dance in society. She states that the goal of Karen Jamieson Dance Company is to create a postcolonial dance form, transcending cultures and joining communities by drawing upon the poetic capacity of contemporary dance. The company has created more than 75 original works.

After graduating with a BA in anthropology and philosophy from the University of British Columbia, Karen Jamieson studied dance at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC. In 1970 she moved to New York to study with a variety of modern dance artists, among them Merce Cunningham and Alwin Nikolais, and performed with Nikolais's company, as well as with choreographers such as Yvonne Rainer and Phyllis Lamhut.

She returned to SFU in 1974, and became a founding member of the experimental movement collective, Terminal City Dance. She won the Jean A. Chalmers choreographic award, once Canada's principal choreographic prize, in 1980, and in 1983 established the Karen Jamieson Dance Company. The company is primarily a vehicle for her own choreography, which has been staged by many other companies in Canada and abroad.

Jamieson conceives her work as having developed in 3 distinct stages. The first stage focused on staged choreography that was performed across Canada at large venues such as the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE THEATRE and the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in Ottawa, and in the US and Europe at many dance festivals. Works from this period include Sisyphus, Man Within, and Rainforest. The second stage expanded beyond the stage and the traditions of Caucasian dance art to explore the use of dance as a container for cross-cultural dialogue and communication in a multicultural society. This period began in 1990 when Jamieson was invited to create a site-specific work, Passages, for the public spaces of the NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA, concurrently with a retrospective exhibition of works by West Coast artist Emily CARR. In the early 1990s much of Jamieson's creativity centred on collaborative performance with First Nations and Caucasian artists, based on a Gitksan concept of law whereby two groups of opposing views come together to resolve conflict. In 1991 Jamieson presented Gawa gyani, a site-specific performance collaboration with First Nations artists, at the University of BC MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY, and in subsequent seasons continued to refine that work in performance in Canada and internationally. Throughout the 1990s Karen Jamieson experimented with a variety of non-theatrical locations for her dances.

In 1997 Jamieson toured northwestern BC with Stone Soup, a show based on an ancient European legend about an itinerant trickster, and featuring indigenous performers from each of the territories in which the piece was performed. In 1998 she presented The River, featuring 110 dancers and volunteers in a "processional performance to honour the layers of history and memory" of a now-buried Vancouver waterway, in daily stages at different locations in the city. In 1999 she presented The Garden, which explored the concept of the garden of life using Biblical texts, at Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral. In 1998 and 1999 there were presentations at the Vancouver Art Gallery of another experiment in cross-cultural creativity, Necessary Encounter, in which she used the myth of the journey into the labyrinth to bring about a meeting between two traditions, modern dance and contemporary Northwest Coast mask making. She continued her cross-cultural journey with Byron Chief-Moon in 2003 to make Quest, a film about identity based on a traditional story from the Blood Nation.

The integrative third stage of Jamieson's creative expression focuses strongly on the process of community engagement. This period began with the Skidegate Project, a three-year collaboration with the company and Haida performers from the village of Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. In 2005, this work was performed in Skidegate and at the UBC Museum of Anthropology as part of the Vancouver Dancing on the Edge Festival. Although Karen Jamieson Dance is renowned for collaborative work with First Nations performers and communities, the company is equally committed to engaging with other kinds of communities. In 2007 and 2008, Stand Your Ground - a three-year project Jamieson initiated with the Carnegie Community Centre and residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the poorest community in Canada - was performed as part of Vancouver's Dancing on the Edge Festival. The site-specific performance wound its way through downtown streets, blending performer with audience and onlooker and bringing together individuals from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. The project also expands the boundaries of contemporary dance by featuring non-dancers and proposing ritual-style movement as a form of community dialogue. As a community engagement project, in 2009 Jamieson began working on Collision, a collaboration between professional and community dancers in partnership with the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver.

Also central to this third stage is the remounting of work from the past. In 2007, the company recreated Sisyphus for the Vancouver International Dance Festival, changing little from the original 1983 performance. Jay Hirayabashi, who danced the role of Sisyphus in 1983, returned to give three performances 24 years later. In 2003, Miriam ADAMS, writing in Dance Collection Danse, recognized Sisyphus as one of 10 choreographic masterworks of the 20th century.

In recognition of the company's 25th anniversary in 2008, Sisyphus, Man Within, and Solo from Chaos were performed at the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver and toured throughout 6 BC communities as part of the "Made in BC" program. Jamieson refers to these 3 pieces, plus her newer work Agon, as The Sisyphus Project, and strategically chooses to present new work alongside the classic work or, as she says, "fulfilled" work. Jamieson also produced The Recollector (2009), a documentary film that chronicles the three-year Skidegate cross-cultural project and features the performances that completed the project honouring Haida elder Percy Gladstone.