Constrained Body, Dancing Body

Conversations and performances on Indigenous dance in Québec today

Ondinnok in partnership with Tangente

Drawing on traditional and classical techniques and incorporating theatrical elements and ancient codes, contemporary Indigenous dance makers are part of a creative wave propelling First Nations artists onto the country’s stages. Another history must be told; another narrative that first and foremost makes space for this body, so long oppressed, denied, and constrained: to rediscover the ancestral body and the atavistic memory still present within the contemporary body. For Indigenous choreographers and dancers, art is a means of expression and an affirmation of identity. Transcending the academic, and despite hardship, they show us a path to joy and the pleasure of dance.

During these three days we’ve discussed contemporary Indigenous dance in Québec, its diverse forms, origins, and what it can contribute to our modern world. We want to discuss, but also to see, and do. The event has featured shows, workshops, discussions, and performances meant to bring together and introduce artists representing distinctive worlds.


WEDNESDAY, May 2, 2018

WEDNESDAY, May 2, 2018

Dance held a central place in the culture and art of Indigenous peoples in Québec. It was an art of social cohesion with pride of place in large gatherings, ceremonies, and celebrations. It infused community members with strength, power, and joy. Across the Americas, repression and colonization had as their primary targets the Indigenous body. Immense harm was done. It is a miracle that the practices, gestures, and rhythms survived. Artists and survivors expressed their rage, sadness, and hope, releasing an energy that reconciled the body with itself. It is this body that is again expressing itself in Québec, without constraint, in myriad forms created by Indigenous dancers from here and elsewhere.

9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

Traditional opening with Amelia Tekwatonti McGregor and protocol

We want to recognize the ancient and continuing presence of Iroquois peoples here in Tio’tia:ke by inviting an elder from the Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake, to open our event. The first dance steps will be from a traditional Kanien’kehaka dance. These dances of celebration and unity of the sowers of corn have vibrated this earth since time immemorial. It is time to honour them and appreciate their real value. You will be invited to join Amelia Tekwatonti McGregor in a Kanien’kehaka social dance that is still danced today during longhouse celebrations.

10:00 a.m.–12:00

1st discussion circle: The body’s role in activating ancestral memory and decolonizing the territory of the Great Turtle


Leticia Vera, Nahua choreographer and performer and Moe Clark, Métis multidisciplinary artist


  • Carlos Rivera, Mixteco choreographer and dancer
  • Marly Fontaine, Innu multidisciplinary artist
  • Charles Koroneho, Maori choreographer and dancer

Tomson Highway, in the prologue to his anthology, From Oral to Written: A Celebration of Indigenous Literature in Canada, 1980-2010, referred to ancestral memory and its importance for Indigenous artists today. Culture, language, ways of living, and the objects that made up Indigenous identity, were often prohibited or lost in the continuous uprooting of successive generations. Indigenous people and artists were driven away from the land, the great teacher and source of the first stories. Exiled in the city and destitute communities, how could they create to bear witness, tell their stories? Ancestral memory was a force within them. The tenacious desire, cultural resistance, and the love artists felt for their ancestors could awaken in them the memories, actions, images, attitudes, and words carefully preserved by this memory, engraved in a foundational DNA.

We want to find out from our guests whether this concept of ancestral memory is familiar, whether they have felt this memory at work within them, and if they trust in it and use it to enrich their work. Can they tell us stories of ancestral memory that inform their practice? Are there triggers or techniques they use to access this memory? Do they use protocols or special processes to connect with it? Are certain locations more conducive than other to this process? Can this memory compensate for the lack or absence of more immediate points of reference? This memory is also one of suffering and wounds. How can we free ourselves of the constraints of the past?

The body is the reservoir of memory, and dance is the art form closest to the wellspring.

How can it be used to help transform the constrained body into a dancing body?

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. LUNCH

A catering service will be offered for free on site (Les Filles Fattoush – Syrian Recipes)

1:00 –2:30 p.m.

2nd discussion circle: Traditions, rhythms, and codes of First peoples at the heart of contemporary dance.  



  • Zab Moboungou, artist-choreographer and performer, professor of philosophy and founder of the Nyata Nyata dance company
  • Ivanie Aubin-Malo professional powwow-style and contemporary dancer of Malecite and Québecois ancestry
  • Charles Koroneho, Maori choreographer and dancer

Moderator: Catherine Joncas, Event Curator, founder and artistic mentor of Ondinnok

What we refer to today as “contemporary dance” emerged from “modern dance,” which arose in the early 20th century in the dominant society’s art world in reaction to the formalism and rigour of classical dance. The “modern dance” movement, led by iconic figures like Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan, embraced physical freedom and emancipation from age old aesthetic codes. It paved the way for artists like Merce Cunningham, who pushed the boundaries even further, leading to “contemporary dance” and its multiple offshoots, even “non-dance.”

This art form is characterized by total artistic freedom, formal research, and innovation. The body expresses itself without censure. Nudity, provocative gestures, transgression, and taboos are all part of this quest for freedom. Performance spaces can be constructed in public, natural, or private settings.  Contemporary choreographers often incorporate other art forms, including theatre, architecture, video, literature, painting, graphic arts, and circus arts.

Our guests will start the conversation on what the “contemporary dance” movement owes to dance forms of Indigenous peoples around the world. What have dance makers consciously or unconsciously drawn from their traditions, dance styles, and their society’s ways of perceiving dance and dancers? This freedom, this sense of the sacred, this wholehearted permission given to the Indigenous artist, the sacred clown, the shamanic trance: this ultimate transformative power comes from civilizations in which the spiritual reigned over the material world. What does this knowledge bring to Indigenous creators and dancers? We will reflect on the demand for recognition of our actions and knowledge, and the ties that link dancers from all backgrounds in this era of cultural reappropriation and affirmation.

3:00 –4:30 p.m.

3rd discussion circle :Dance for healing. Dance for existence and celebration. Dance means freedom for Indigenous dancers whose expression today takes multiple forms and styles.


Louis Sioui Durand, Wendat Bboy

Prairie Fire Jiggers

Participants –

  • Jaime Morse, jiggers, artist, and activist
  • Gary McFarland, powwow-style dancer
  • Aïcha Bastien-N’diaye, choreographer and performer in contemporary dance, of Wendat and Guinean origin

The territories of 11 Indigenous nations are found within Québec’s borders. They are nations with differing cultures, languages, and lifestyles. Hunting and fishing culture: the Atikamekw, Eeyou (Cree), Innu, Anishinabeg and Naskapi peoples; Coastal culture: the Mi’kmaq people; culture of the corn: the Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) and Wendat (Huron) peoples. Northern Inuit. W8banaki (Abenaki) and Wolastoqiyik (Malecite): peoples of the dawn. The colonial languages, French and English, were imposed on these nations after contact, making communication more difficult. Knowledge-sharing through dance, however, continued. Today, Indigenous dance makers, from here and elsewhere, practise their art in Quebec. This art is often the product of borrowing and encounters with others, countering the vision of a single Indigenous dance form frozen in time.

In this third conversation, we want to discuss with our guests the function of dance within Indigenous society, the role they play as actors of cultural and social reconstruction, a role they also play in personal paths of artistic reconstruction; and the choice and adoption of forms belonging to other cultures. We will discuss the blending and integration of traditional and contemporary codes by young dancers. And we will reflect on the place of dance today in Indigenous communities, and the types of dance practised there.


THURSDAY, May 3, 2018

1:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Choreography workshop

Métis choreographer Daina Ashbee invites participants to learn her creative approach, working with the density and complexity of the body’s physical structure. She will explorer the relationship between choreographer and dancer, introducing participants to her “sculpture” process. By awakening our subconscious mind through the body, her approach renews our awareness of our relationship to the environment, the earth, and our ancestors.

Maximum – 11 participants

5:00 – 7:00 p.m. – DINNER

A catering service will be offered for free on site (Les Filles Fattoush – Syrian Recipes)

7:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Show : Oieron:ta – Hindered Body/Dancing Spirit

Choreographer and dancer | Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, Kanien’kehá:ka de Kahnawake artist

Dancer | Cheryl McDonald, artiste Kanien’kehá:ka de Kanesatake

Choreographer and dancer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, a member of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake, presents her solo work based on her relationships with our mother earth, her people, and her family. It is an exploration of the multiple forces that have constrained and restricted body, spirit, and culture in the last decades. A powerful affirmation of resistance and joy.

“We will always be confronted with opposing forces, but I choose to dance freely.” – Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

8:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Panel discussion



A conversation on the works and artistic paths and processes of dancers and choreographers: Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo and Daina Ashbee.

Accompanied by the great choreographer and dancer Margie Gillis, we will consider the interpretation of the work of Indigenous choreographers and the perspective of decolonization. We will talk with Margie about her appreciation of Indigenous codes and her relationship to the territory she shares with First Nations artists.


FRIDAY, May 4, 2018

1:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Powwow-style dance workshops for men and women

With Gary McFarland and Ivanie Aubin-Malo

Introduction to powwow dancing and sharing of the dancers’ knowledge, techniques, and histories, concluding with a practise session with participants.

5:00 – 7:00 p.m. – DINNER

A catering service will be offered for free on site (Kwe Kwe Gourmet – First Nations Recipes)

7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Earth beats

Master of ceremony :

  • Yves Sioui Durand, theatre artist, founder and artistic mentor of Ondinnok

Musiciens :

  • RedTail Spirit Group, Pow Wow Drummers
  • Eli Miller-Maboungou, Drummer
  • DJ Indgo

Invitation to dance a few steps to DJs’ soundscapes and drum groups’ drumming and songs, accompanied by dancers from diverse artistic and cultural communities (powwow, street dance, African dance, etc.).


Read artists’ biography 


Espace Orange, Édifice Wilder – Espace danse | 1435, Bleury Street, Montreal


(Interviews and coverage) : Marie Marais, Press Officer

514-845-2821 | 438-933-2821 c |