Migrant Bodies

Migrant Bodies is a major two-year international choreographic research project undertaken with partners in Vancouver, Montreal, France, Italy and Croatia. The artistic team is working in Vancouver November 17-27 and Alexa Mardon, one of the project’s writers, provides this insight into their research process:

On Monday last week, the Migrant Bodies Project artists arrived in Vancouver, tired and jetlagged in varying degrees. They carry with them months of experience and stories, tied to the project's enormous and wide-reaching theme of migration. Over the past five months, the group has travelled and worked in Croatia (Zagreb), Italy (Bassano) and Montreal. For the last week, they have made Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territory, their base for further exploration.

Throughout their time in Vancouver, Lee Su-Feh, the Vancouver-based dance artist involved in the project, helped to organize a number of activities which acted as an introductory crash-course in British Columbia's complex relationships to various forms of migration. The jumping-off points for research ranged from the life-giving, cyclical journey of the salmon, to the colonization of Indigenous people by European settlers, to current Canadian immigration policy. From the downtown eastside to Burnaby mountain, in smaller groups or altogether, the six artists encountered patterns of migration in Vancouver; its traces often obvious, but sometimes invisible.

Ginelle Chagnon and Jasna Layes Vinovrski forage for licorice fern at the base of a cedar in Stanley Park. Cease Wyss, our guide for the day, taught us to tuck the rhizomes of the plant back into the moss to allow for further growth.

Most importantly, perhaps, during their week in Vancouver, the group listened. We listened to artists, survivors, storytellers, activists, and to each other. Some listened for discrepancy between their expectations of, and subsequent encounters with a city often touted as one of the most liveable in the world. We listened to hard facts about ongoing legacies of colonial violence, racism, and dispossession, in a place where romanticized natural landscapes often act as mascots for our province. We listened to our footsteps on the frozen ground. At a salmon hatchery in Coquitlam, I listened to the thump of muscled coho against the side of a tank, a day before the salmon's release. Some of us listened to the songs, chants and demands of hundreds of protestors on Burnaby mountain opposing the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project. We listened for holes in the normalized, tourist-friendly narratives of British Columbia, the self-proclaimed "The Best Place on Earth." This listening was often exhausting as it was mobilizing.

Maurice, one of our hosts at the hatchery, shows us the transformation of a coho salmon in colour and shape on its journey from the ocean to the river.

After so many days of absorbing, there were times when the magnitude of the subject matter felt too large to tackle. Huge questions arose, seemingly not for the first time, about the nature of the project, its enormity of subject, its lack of true diversity in voices. How to absorb, to process, and eventually, how to create something that can be transmitted through the artists' bodies, for others to encounter? During one discussion, Su-Feh likened the body of the performer to the salmon, perfectly programmed to exact its genetic purpose, to return to the river to spawn and then pass life on in the form of decay. What information do our bodies hold, and how do performers carry that information with them? What gets passed on, and what gets left behind?

RCMP officers guard a Kinder Morgan drilling site on Burnaby Mountain, Sunday afternoon.

Currently, the artists are re-visiting and newly discovering the materials they've carried with them throughout the project; their bodies and the structures and vocabularies developed over the months. This exploration, now informed by the artists' experiences in Vancouver, will grow, adapt, and re-orient itself in a new location.

On Wednesday November 26, from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm there will be a public sharing of this progress and process. We invite you to join in this ongoing conversation, in all its stories, silences, and questions.

The group walk from the salmon hatchery to the river in Tuesday's cold sunshine.


Photos by Alexa Mardon