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Dancer launches first production through new company


Cheryl Petten, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Vancouver







Page 20

When she was born, Denise Lonewalker's mother gave her a Mi'kmaq name, Nishka-Na-Wee-Wia-the spirit that dances. In the years since, Lonewalker has lived up to that name.

Her list of accomplishments in the world of dance is impressive. She was the first Indigenous woman to graduate with honors from the National Ballet School. She's performed with the National Ballet Company, the New York City Ballet, Toronto Dance Theatre, the Paula Ross Dance Company, Kokoro Dance, and Karen Jamieson Dance Company. She's also choreographed several solo works, and has choreographed and acted in a number of plays, including Age of Iron, Fireweed, and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapaskasing.

Add to that list now the founding of her own dance company, the Still, In Motion Dance Society.

The decision to form Still, In Motion was made, Lonewalker explained, after her performance at the Dancing on the Edge festival in Vancouver in 1999, when many people who'd watched her performance encouraged her to do her own show.

"So I thought I'd take it one step further and form my own company."

The name of the dance company, Still, In Motion, came to Lonewalker in a dream.

"I had this dream of a dancer friend of mine, Erin . . . and she put her hand on my shoulder, and said, 'Denise, you are still, in motion.' In other words, standing absolutely still inside motion," she said.

"The Still, In Motion Dance Society is a vehicle to strengthen and share my heritage within the First Nations community, through creation and performance," Lonewalker said. "I'm Mi'kmaq, Hopi and Apache, and I feel it's imperative to reach out and tap into Native communities in order for me to grow as a First Nations artist."

Artistically, the main objective of the company is to develop new forms of storytelling based upon contemporary dance and the traditions of Native storytelling. Lonewalker also hopes to be able to offer children's workshops in dance and other performance arts through the company.

At the time of this interview, however, Lonewalker's attentions and energies were focused on Dreamscape, the first production mounted by Still, In Motion. Dreamscape premiered Sept. 26 at the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver, launching the centre's new season.

Joining Lonewalker in the production were the three other members of Still, In Motion: fellow dancers Anne Cooper, Michelle Olson and Janna-Jo Scheunhage. Lonewalker has danced with Cooper in the past, in the Karen Jamieson Dance Company, but this is the first time she has worked with Olson, who is from Han Nation in the Yukon, and Scheunhage, a Metis dancer from Grand Prairie, Alta.

Lonewalker describes Dreamscape as "a spiritual journey of healing."

"The audience is taken through a collage-like dream, which reveals the connectiveness of all things, and the never-ending circle of life and death. They'll be taken through this journey, and they may be able to identify with it, because Dreamscape is the story of all our ancestors," Lonewalker said.

Lonewalker said she has always told stories in her works. And she finds infusing the worlds of contemporary dance and traditional Native storytelling to be a natural process, "because dance is part of our own culture.

"We danced to celebrate, mourn, and share different life experiences with each other. We danced to honor all life-givers- animals, plants, women, birth, little people, and our Elders."