Urban and Rural Union in the North Island – North Island Gazette



In addition to fishing, camping, hiking and kayaking, the North Island has recently become a hub for professional contemporary dance performances featuring nationally and internationally acclaimed dance artists.

The BC Movement Arts Society (BCMAS), founded and directed by Sointula resident Mary-Louise Albert, presents a series of four to six dance performances throughout the year in Sointula, Alert Bay, Port McNeill and, in the coming season, Campbell River. Some of the artists involved even came from places like New York and Finland. The not-for-profit corporation is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, the BC Arts Council and the Regional District of Mount Waddington. BCMAS is one of the few dance societies in Canada to be based in and serve a rural or remote area.

Albert has worked as a professional dancer for 20 years, as a freelance dance artist and as a company member with the Judith Marcuse Dance Company, Anna Wyman Dance Theater and the Karen Jamieson Dance Company.

She was also an apprentice with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. After retiring from dancing at age 45, Albert went to business school where he earned a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration Technology from BCIT and a Certificate in Arts and Entertainment from the University Capilano. Subsequently, she worked as artistic director of the Norman Rothstein Theater (NRT) and the international multidisciplinary Chutzpah! Festival, based in Vancouver, for 15 years. After buying a house in Sointula in 2013, she “backed” the launch of BCMAS while working in Vancouver, which involved extensive travel and remote work. In February 2020, she moved to Sointula full-time and dedicated herself exclusively to BCMAS with the help of a team of supporters, including dance artists Rebecca Margolick and Livona Ellis as artistic and program advisors, Andrea Cranmer as Cultural and Arts Advisor to ‘Namgis First Nation and the Society’s non-profit Board of Directors.

Albert aims to help address the “unequal access” to professional-level cultural experiences outside of urban areas. She wants residents of the North Island to be able to “see something” without the added expense of travel and vacation.

The BCMAS also supports the development of professional dance artists through “creation residencies”. Albert invites dance artists to Sointula to spend time working and creating dances. They receive a per diem, are offered housing, and are given what Albert calls “a nice space to work in” in the hallways of Sointula. She says: “All the work you see has been created before and needed studio space, so it’s a really nice way for dance artists to come and work on their own work and work on a room.”

Although residencies are for the benefit of dance artists’ own creative development, there are social benefits for North Island residents.

While here, the dancers often provide free outreach programs for children and youth in the community. The local economy is also somewhat stimulated by room rentals, travel and shopping.

The last show of the BCMAS season – before it restarts in September – will take place on Friday July 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday July 24 at 2:00 p.m. at the Sointula Athletics Hall, and on Saturday July 23 at 7:00 p.m. Gate House Theater in Port McNeill. The program will feature Vancouver dance artists and choreographers Alexis Fletcher and Amber Barton.

They will be joined by a special guest artist, Chelsea Edwardson, who is a musician, songwriter and singer. Each dancer will perform a solo they created, followed by a musical ensemble by Edwardson, then a finale that involves improvisation.

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