The Canada Council for the Arts has announced that Margaret Grenier, choreographer, dance artist, Executive and Artistic Director of Dancers of Damelahamid, and Producer and Director of the annual Coastal Dance Festival, is the winner of the 2020 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.
The $50,000 prize, administered and presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievement by a Canadian professional artist in music, theatre or dance.
Margaret Grenier Awarded Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts
“I am deeply compelled as an artist by the desire to impact a shift in our collective consciousness that values and upholds all dance forms,” says Grenier. “Receiving this award, as a traditionally trained Indigenous dancer from the Northwest Coast, is a great honour and gives recognition to the depth of this art form and to the dedicated efforts that revitalized these dances.”
Born in Prince Rupert, BC, and currently based in Gibsons, BC, Grenier is of Gitxsan and Cree ancestry. Having trained from a very young age in traditional Gitxsan dance by her parents, Kenneth and Margaret Harris, 2019 Dance Collection Dance Hall of Fame inductees, Grenier has worked as a professional dancer since 1991 performing with the Dancers of Damelahamid – the company she now leads as Executive and Artistic Director. Dancers of Damelahamid, an Indigenous dance company, emerged in the 1960s out of an urgency to ensure that the knowledge of their ancestors was not lost.
Grenier is also the Producer and Director of the annual Coastal Dance Festival, established in 2008. The festival has formed a community that reaches throughout the Northwest Coast, as well as nationally and internationally.
Grenier’s vast choreographic achievements include Setting the Path (2004) and Sharing the Spirit (2007), which toured to New Zealand (2008) and to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai China, and Visitors Who Never Left (2009). Margaret choreographed the multimedia productions Spirit Transforming (2012), Flicker (2016), and Mînowin (2019).
“I have witnessed and experienced an immense shift in the world of dance as a result of our collective struggle to create space for our Indigenous dance practices and overcome colonial barriers. It is my hope that every achievement opens new possibilities and breathes strength into one another and our arts,” adds Grenier.
Presented for the first time in 2001, the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts was created as a result of a generous donation of $1.1 million to the Canada Council by Toronto businessman and philanthropist Walter Carsen. The prize is awarded annually on a four-year cycle: dance, theatre, dance, music.
Grenier is the 19th winner of the prize; previous winners have included such Canadian luminaries as R. Murray Schafer, composer; Veronica Tennant, principal dancer, producer-director; John Murrell, playwright; dancer, Peggy Baker, choreographer and teacher; Menaka Thakkar, artistic director, dancer and choreographer; Rodney Sharman, composer; and Bill Coleman, dancer and choreographer; among many others.
Grenier holds an M.A. from Simon Fraser University and a B.Sc. from McGill University. She has programmed with the Bill Reid Gallery and directed the HR MacMillan Space Centre’s production Sky Stories. She was a sessional instructor for Simon Fraser’s course Foundations in Aboriginal Education, Language, and Culture (2007) and at the Banff Centre’s Indigenous Dance Residency (2013). Grenier presented at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Australia (2008), Peru (2011), Hawai’i (2014), and Toronto (2017). She received the Reveal Award in 2017. Grenier serves on the board of the BC Alliance for Arts and Culture.