Karen Jamieson looks within for solo|soul's inspiration

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Karen Jamieson has been dancing for decades, so it wasn’t a surprise for her to discover in her late 40s that her body just wasn’t moving the way it used to. She turned to yoga to help. The practice known as vijñāna has done far more for the veteran Vancouver artist than improve her physical abilities. It also opened doors to new opportunities and even a new dance work that premieres at this year’s Dancing on the Edge.

“My range of motion was diminishing,” Jamieson recalls in a postrehearsal interview at the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s lounge. “I could just feel it. My body was starting to close down in its range, in its possibility. It was scary but also inevitable. Once I started working with the energy body, I got more and more flexibility. It expanded me.

“I realized that this deeper practice could really support dance technique,” adds the prolific artistic director of Karen Jamieson Dance, who’s created close to 90 works. “A lot of dancers are going to these inward practices and finding they have greater range.”

Vijñāna means “understanding from inside”, and the form involves asanas (yoga poses), meditation, the study of yogic texts, pranayama (breathing regulation and techniques), and the awareness of vayus, or different energy centres in the body. There’s also a distinct focus on skeletal lines, which helps people correct or maintain their alignment—a boon to dancers, aging or not.

Jamieson, who’s now “well into her 60s”, found herself so enraptured by vijñāna that she put in the 800 hours it takes to become a certified teacher. A few years ago, she also decided that she wanted to explore the form in a new way, this time as the basis for a dance piece.

Solo|soul is the result of three years Jamieson spent working with many seasoned and emerging local artists, whom she considered her research partners for the multimedia production: dancers and choreographers Jennifer Mascall, Lee Su-Feh, Serge Bennathan, Peter Bingham, Josh Martin, Margaret Grenier, Meredith Kalaman, and Darcy McMurray; dramaturge DD Kugler; composer John Korsrud; photographer Chris Randle; and videographer Josh Hite.

Together they helped Jamieson develop a new language that she describes as “dancing from the energy body”. She still refers to themes that have appeared in previous works, including nature and First Nations mythology, and her vocabulary remains primeval and abstract. But now she’s more inclined to turn within for inspiration rather than to external, more tangible influences.

If an inward practice of relaxing the body and quieting the mind seems at odds with dancing in front of a live audience, that’s exactly the kind of challenge Jamieson craved.
“I wanted to see if I could bring this internal, meditative practice to the outer world of performance, to bridge it to dance,” Jamieson says. “I’ve always done my dances on that sort of basis: to understand something or find something out about dance and about its power.

“All of the other artists brought something different to the discussion and opened it up,” she continues. “It was a very expanding process. I love building a piece from research, otherwise it feels a little thin. I want new information and I want to go new places with the work. It’s a dialogue, a collaboration.”

Collaboration is an approach Jamieson employs frequently. Among her best-known works are those that have involved many others in the creative process. Take the Skidegate Project, which started in 2002, included the participation of scores of members from the Haida Gwaii village of the same name, and culminated three years later with a performance there of the Percy Gladstone Memorial Dance. She has also spent several years working with people who call the Downtown Eastside home through her company’s community-engaged dance practice forums. Lately the workshops have focused on using vijñāna among elders as a starting point for movement.

Dance is clearly much more than an art form to Jamieson; it’s also a means of communication and a way to bring diverse people and groups together. In her latest venture, it also proves to be a platform for commentary on stiff muscles and creaking joints.

“This process has been an affirmation that dance is a really good resource for healthy aging,” Jamieson says. “For sure solo|soul investigates the process of aging. You can feel this transformation going on as you age, but it’s interesting to see that some practices keep you going, they let you hover for a while to explore.

“I have a lot of younger dancers mentoring with me, and we’re using a lot of these principles and they make a lot of sense,” she adds. “To me, the excitement of dance and of yoga is that these practices are the embodiment of the spirit. Energy practice is a powerful healer.”

Solo|soul plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (July 10, 11, and 12) at the Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street).

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