A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Karen Jamieson - A Wonderful Isolation
Sunday, March 18, 2007

My daughter Ale and I attended an all Karen Jamieson ( left, with Alosun Payne behind mask and Gregory Dominic Odjig) dance evening at the Roundhouse last night. We left completely exhausted, but not as exhausted as Caroline Farquar who carried Brian Solomon on her shoulders for most of the performance in Man Within. After seeing so many women carry men (in Sisyphus) I wondered how Jamieson finds dancers to dance in her grueling works.

Much was written in the previews that Jamieson's Sisyphus was declared to be one of ten choreographic masterworks of the twentieth century by Danse Magazine in 1983. Only one original peformer from the 1980 premiere returned. 60-year-old but very fit, Jay Hirabayashi, made the experience all that more satisfying and believable as a Sisyphus that has to dance for eternity without respite. While I never saw the original work this one seemed fresh, as if it had been choreographed weeks before. Hirabayashi's exhaustion was true.

But it was Jamieson's work that is based on Native Canadian ritual and dance that most appealed to me. Her Crow was like watching the crows that congregate in my garden in the summer and her replication of a dying crow was as real as the ones that have died in my garden from some mysterious virus. In Elmer and Coyote Jamieson paired off with the strikingly handsome and elegant Byron Chief-Moon. He looked like an elder from the past wearing a modern suit.

Some years ago I heard noted luteninsts Stephen Stubbs and Paul O'Dette explain that they had traveled to Paraguay to study how natives there played the mandolin. It seems that the methods for playing a baroque mandolin and guitar had been forgotten in time but those very methods were still in effect in modern Paraguay.

I often wonder why so few (I could be writing here in complete ignorance) native communities have ever adapted their dance and song to modern specifications. My impression is that Jamieson (right, with an elder from Stone Soup) almost works in complete isolation. Her results are wondrous and I will never quite look at a crow in the same way.


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