WRITTEN BY DEBRA LYNN
In addition to fishing, camping, hiking and kayaking, the North Island has lately become a hub for professional contemporary dance performances featuring nationally and internationally renowned dance artists.
The BC Movement Arts Society (BCMAS), founded and directed by Sointula resident Mary-Louise Albert, presents a series of four to six dance performances throughout the year in Sointula, Alert Bay, Port McNeill and—in the upcoming season—Campbell River. Some of the performers involved have even come from places like New York and Finland. The non-profit society is subsidized by The Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, the BC Arts Council and the Regional District of Mount Waddington. The BCMAS is one of the few dance societies in Canada that is based in and serving a rural/remote area.
Albert worked as a professional dancer for 20 years, as an independent dance artist and as a company member with the Judith Marcuse Dance Company, Anna Wyman Dance Theatre and the Karen Jamieson Dance Company.
She has also apprenticed with Les Grands Ballet Canadiens. After retiring from dance at age 45, Albert went to business school earning a Post Diploma of Technology in Business Administration from BCIT and an Arts & Entertainment Certificate from Capilano University. Thereafter, she worked as Artistic Managing Director of the Norman Rothstein Theatre (NRT)and the multidisciplinary international Chutzpah! Festival, based in Vancouver, for 15 years. After buying a home in Sointula in 2013, she “piggybacked” the launch of the BCMAS while still working in Vancouver—which involved a lot of travel and working remotely. In February of 2020 she moved to Sointula full time and devoted herself exclusively to BCMAS with help from a team of supporters, including dance artists Rebecca Margolick and Livona Ellis as artistic and program advisors, Andrea Cranmer as cultural and artistic advisor from the ‘Namgis First Nation and the society’s non-profit board.
Albert aims to help resolve the “inequity of access” to professional level cultural experiences outside urban areas. She wants North Island residents to be able to “see something” without the extra expense of travel and taking time off work.
The BCMAS also supports the development of professional dance artists through “creation residencies.” Albert invites dance artists to Sointula to spend time working and creating dances. They are paid a per diem, offered accommodation and are given what Albert calls “a lovely space to work” in the halls of Sointula. She says, “All the works that you see have been created before and needed studio space, so this is a really lovely way for dance artists to come and work on their own work and work on a piece.”
Although the residencies are for the benefit of dance artists’ own creative development, there are fringe benefits for North Island residents.
While they are here, the dancers often provide free outreach programs for children and youth in the community. The local economy also gets a bit of a boost through venue rentals, travel and purchases.
The BCMAS’s last show of the season—before it restarts again in September—will take place Friday, July 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m. at the Athletic Hall in Sointula, and on Saturday, July 23 at 7:00 p.m. at the Gate House Theatre in Port McNeill. The program will feature dance artists and choreographers from Vancouver, Alexis Fletcher and Amber Barton.
They will be joined by special guest artist, Chelsea Edwardson, who is a musician, composer and singer. Each dancer will be performing a solo that they created, followed by a musical set by Edwardson and then a finale that involves improvisation.
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