Buy Tickets
  • 3 min read

A different kind of river dancing

Photos by Erik Zennström

By Amy Kenny

In a way, when Michelle Olson dances in front of you, she’s speaking to you. She didn’t always realize that’s what she was doing, but she was always curious about why she felt she needed movement to express herself.

“With the loss of traditional language, I feel like there’s something at play with that idea of not being able to express your worldview through language,” says Olson, a member of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. “And I feel like I’m able to express worldview through my business.” 

Olson’s business is the Raven Spirit Dance Society, which uses dance, theatre, puppets and multi-media to share stories from an Indigenous perspective. Olson is co-artistic director of the Vancouver-based company. On July 5, the company will perform its latest piece, Confluence, at the Yukon Arts Centre for the Adäka Cultural Festival finale.

Olson says it’s a performance that didn’t start out as a performance. 

“At the beginning, it was never really about creating a piece of choreography. It was more about coming into the room with other Indigenous people and share our contemporary practice or our traditional practice,” she says. But themes started to emerge and evolve. They got stronger every time the company gathered. Without meaning to, Olson and her co-artistic director, Starr Muranko, realized a new show was growing. 

That’s not always how it works for the Society. Sometimes Olson and Muranko do go into a studio with the goal of coming out with a performance. With Confluence, there was no pressure for their process to become a production. Halfway through though, it became clear that’s what was happening. 

“We just kept on arriving at very clear places in the choreography, and clear places are really clear statements,” Olson says. They went from openly sharing ideas to searching for specific threads in a storyline.

Once it was ready, it was stalled for a few years—one of the many arts events that was set to launch as the pandemic hit. It had its premiere last year.

In this story, water is central. Rivers braid together to become new rivers. There are different streams and different ways of being in the world. When water weaves together, it becomes a larger, stronger force. Confluence is about the joining of all those perspectives within a group, she says.  

And the group includes the performers who will be onstage July 5, but it also includes the ideas and impulses of people who have contributed to the Society over the last 10 years. Within that definition, Olson says the performance has to do with taking a stand as Indigenous women and having a sense of agency onstage rather than the sense of anxiety Olson says she might have felt up there a decade ago. 

She jokes that it may just be that she’s 50 now, but it also has to do with the Society and performing with others.

“I take up space differently. And I know we all do as a collective. There’s less of, not an apology, but less wondering our worth at being on that stage. I’ve really learned over the years that to take up space is a very political and powerful thing.” 

The opening act for Confluence is nehiyawewin by Sandra Lamouche.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased HERE.