Migrant Bodies

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Posted on November 12, 2014 in Migrant Bodies
Reflecting on Migration through the Arts: the Migrant Bodies Project

Migrant Bodies Project artists

The Dance Centre’s Executive Director Mirna Zagar introduces Migrant Bodies, a major two-year international research project undertaken with partners in Montreal, France, Italy and Croatia, which comes to Vancouver November 17-26.

One year ago, I was thrilled to see the launch of Migrant Bodies - a project created in partnership with Comune di Bassano del Grappa [Italy], La Briqueterie – Centre de développement chorégraphique du Val-de-Marne [France], Hrvatski institut za pokret i ples [HIPP] [Croatia], and Circuit-Est centre chorégraphique [Québec] – which aims to use artistic and cultural tools to open up a civil reflection on migration in European and Canadian societies.

For this project, each organization selected a dancer-choreographer, a writer, and a filmmaker. The dance artists, accompanied by Canadian artist Ginelle Chagnon, travel as a group to Canada, France, Italy and Croatia to undertake residencies, take part in workshops and develop their research in collaboration with other artists and migrant communities they encounter on their journeys, as they explore different cultures, histories and traditions. The writers and filmmakers will develop creative works inspired by the theme of migrations in relation to each local context. This all culminates in July 2015 with an international symposium at the Opera Estate Festival Veneto, one of Italy’s largest and most innovative multidisciplinary festivals. The project has already been to Italy, Croatia and Montreal, and now comes to Vancouver for the first time, returning for a second instalment in February 2015.

Why migration? The world of today is traversed, physically, by a population of migrants almost as big in numbers as a continent. Whether driven by hunger, war, persecution, economic necessity or by choice, all of them carry their own territory in their bodies – often their only ‘belonging’ and their core identity. Migration resonates differently and has different impacts in each of the partner cities, influencing the demographic, social, cultural, artistic, economic and political scenes. Migrants are increasingly seen as a core element of our self-perception, and the key to understanding ourselves and others. They contribute to a new sense of multicultural citizenship and transform our sense of belonging. In turn this calls for constructive dialogue on cultural differences, to reinforce social inclusion and fight against discrimination and prejudices, creating a sense of mutual understanding and a space of dialogue and tolerance upon which we build new worlds.

Cooking lesson in Verona, Italy

Migrant Bodies can be viewed as European/Canadian laboratory, in which mainstream images in relation to migrations are questioned and reflected upon through the universal language of the arts. The body of the artist is the ideal medium to portray new identities that result from migration across territories and continents, as well as the starting point of a cultural, political, and civil reflection.

Research and reflection are core to the project, which is based around the context of migration in its broadest understanding and invites local communities of artists to engage in dialogue with the project artists, as well as drawing in the public through the sharing of the work.

On their journeys the artists - Alessandro Sciarroni (Italy), Cécile Proust (France), Jasna Layes-Vinovrski (Croatia), Manuel Roque (Montreal) and Lee Su-Feh (Vancouver) along with Ginelle Gagnon (you can read more about the artists on the Migrant Bodies website )– have not only discovered the cities and their cultures, but they have met with a diverse range of migrant communities, such as the Roma in Croatia, and refugees from Africa in Italy. They have met with storytellers, philosophers, researchers and experts in issues related to migration. Their experiences were visceral and sensory as they experienced culinary interventions attesting to the impact of migrations across cultures in a broad sense; they learned about changes to urban centres that are impacted by migratory movements, for example in Trieste, historically an important trading post and port. They have experienced natural phenomena, visiting Čigoć in Croatia, Europe’s first official stork village which is famed for its migratory population of storks (which exceed the human population in size!), and witnessed the migration of hundreds of thousands of snow geese at Cap Tourmente as they leave Quebec for warmer territories. You can see some wonderful photos on the project’s Facebook page. Each experience unravels a different type of reaction and memory within the body, the group, and the individual... and each stop is a pause for reflection as much as a springboard for ideas.

The migrating storks in Croatia

The body is a vessel which contains these new experiences: it contains the dance artist’s own experience of migration, often in the additional senses of the significant travels artists often undertake as part of their vocation, the transitions from one style to another, one technique to the other. The body is the landscape all of these experiences are recorded onto.  The body is the single tangible thing that a migrant carries from birth to death, sometimes its only possession. The body tells the story, and each is an individual one.  The artist is the messenger, the conveyor and often the voice which resonates across continents, cultures and communities, crossing language and other barriers.

The theme is huge and is as old as the human race. It is a story to some extent familiar to each and all of us. In this project it is taken in the broadest of its meanings, looking at human migrations as well as those of cultures, and of natural phenomena. This is a dialogue that can be inspiring and terrifying, but which shows us the face of the human spirit.

Sharing in Zagreb

In Vancouver, the dance artists will catch a glimpse of what this city is, its many layers of history, and what our community is about. They will walk through Stanley Park and learn how plants have been used for medicine and sustenance with Cease Wyss; discover the salmon run in Coquitlam; visit the Museum of Anthropology; take in a tea ceremony in Chinatown; and explore the sometimes gritty landscape of the city through battery opera and the Unit Pitt Gallery. And their impressions of Vancouver will ultimately be shaped by the people they meet, our local dancers and choreographers, artists from other disciplines, and their overall experience of our city.  I do hope that Vancouver artists will respond to the artists’ open invitation to meet up in the mornings (10am) either for a warm up, or an ‘art-felt’ chat and an opportunity to exchange ideas and connect.

I also hope you will be able to join us on November 26 at 1.30pm for an informal public sharing of the ideas and research sparked by this research and these experiences, to meet this thoughtful artists and to join in the conversation.


Migrant Bodies public sharing: Wednesday November 26, 2014, 1.30-3pm in the Faris Family Studio at Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver. Free admission: all welcome.

Photos from top to bottom: the project's dance artists; cooking in Verona with a couscous maker; storks in Croatia; sharing work in Zagreb.

Migrant Bodies is supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union.


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