Indigenous Artist Spotlight: Olivia C. Davies.
Ontario Presents and its member presenting organizations recognize the importance of presenting Indigenous artists, stories and culture as part of their presenting practice. As we continue to encourage the respectful presentation of Indigenous art, we will be featuring an Indigenous artist each month in our e-newsletter and blog. Our sincere thanks to Denise Bolduc for conceiving of and continuing to support this Spotlight Series.
Started in 2018, the Indigenous Artist Spotlight series is intended to foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond.
Find all of our past Spotlight interviews here.
This month we spoke with dance artist Olivia C. Davies.
We always like to start with an introduction – can you tell our readers and listeners about yourself?
My name is Olivia. I’m a contemporary indigenous choreographer, dance artist and I’m the artistic director of O. Dela Arts. The company is based on the unceded Coast Salish territory in Vancouver, BC. However, I am currently located in the Ottawa Valley on Anishnaabe Algonquin territory.
Thank you so much for introducing yourself. Could you tell me a little bit about the projects that you’re working on? Whether it’s independently or with O. Dela Arts?
So through O. Dela Arts, we run a Matriarchs Uprising Festival. We’re now in our third year. During this year’s online festival, we had a wonderful partnership with Dance House in Vancouver where we had a live broadcast of transformation stories.
We’re looking forward to another event - a conversation with women who are involved in performance, theatre, and filmmaking, on June 18, that will be in partnership with the Talking Stick Festival. And in September, we are presenting a hybrid showcase, which has come together as part of our “Bring Your Own Project” call for artists. We asked artists to bring projects that they are currently developing and then to share 10 to 15 minutes of the work in an online presentation. So that’s what we’re doing this year with the Matriarchs Uprising festival.
And then as an independent artist, I am a new mom! So most of my time is currently devoted to the care and attention of my family. I’m also taking some time to work on a solo that’ll be presented next year -‘Straight, No Chaser’. This is a semi-autobiographical story that lends itself to the world of storytelling, dance. I’m working towards sharing a short filmed presentation of that at Dancing on the Edge this summer. Another solo project that I’ll be a part of is with Pounds per Square Inch and the Arrivals Legacy Project. One of the two people who had those projects is creating a new project called the art of peace. I’m involved in that as a collaborator, creating a solo that’ll be part of a larger presentation in the future.
Well, it definitely sounds like you have your hands full, how do you balance all the projects, concepts, and everything with your home life and tight schedule?
I’m really grateful for my husband who has been here helping me to take care of his daughter; and me. He’s been ensuring that we have what we need to thrive.
With O. Dela Arts, we’ve continued to produce live projects through hiring part-time staff. We have a marketing manager and an Administrative Director who are assisting as I’m working less due to motherhood. I’m beginning to understand the need to delegate responsibilities. Hiring wonderful multi-talented artists like the arts administrator, and the graphic designer has encouraged me to trust people.
I look to other Indigenous mothers who have paved the way for me, in terms of how they support their families, careers, and their communities. Some of my mentors, Michelle Olson, Star Muranko, Lara Kramer, just to name a few, are choreographers, dance artists, mothers, friends, and mentors to me. They’ve been generous in helping me to witness what they do, the challenges they overcome and the ways that they thrive.
Wow, I’m wondering, how has motherhood impacted your life as an artist?
Yeah, that’s a beautiful question.
I think there’s certainly a creative force that is more real to me than it ever was. Not only in how pregnancy shaped me, my thinking, the intentions behind creating a good space for my daughter to come into this world, but just in recognizing as a new mother, how important it is to find the balance, time, and space to live in her world with her. And to explore the world through the eyes of this beautiful being who is so curious and excited about all her new experiences. So that’s shifted the way I see the world for sure.
As a dancer, I watch her experiment with her body. There’s so much that goes into the coordination, and the grace that we dancers carry. To see my baby girl grow into her body and learn how to move in different ways brings up a lot of emotion. It’s an incredible joy to know that she is dancing with me. She was always dancing in the womb, and now she’s here dancing with me.
We’ve had the opportunity to teach a class together with her in a carrier on my chest. We’ve taught a couple of online classes through the Share Dance program, which provides dance classes to inner-city schools in Vancouver. Every two weeks or so we get together with kids in a classroom through zoom. And yeah, my baby girl dances with me.
You can’t tell that I’m smiling from ear to ear right now, just because of the image in my head of you dancing with your baby in her carrier. It’s really beautiful. And thank you so much for continuing to work so hard and inspiring young dancers, even as a mother, it’s really beautiful. Thank you.
So in the early part of your career, you focused a lot on the empowerment of women. I want to know how that’s realized now, especially continuing in the same mindset of, you know, having a baby girl. How do you represent that idea of feminism in your work?
Being raised by a single mother and seeing how hard she worked to support her family made it important to me as a young dancer, to find ways to work in collective creation with other women. That would empower us to share our stories and find the truth of our stories through collaboration - that was with the Mata dance collective.
That early work continues to influence my creative choices and collaboration today. Now, there’s more emphasis on finding ways to mentor Indigenous women and creating space for our stories to be shared in a community of other indigenous women. We find strength in that circle.
As I speak with other mothers, grandmothers in the art world, we’re talking about how important it is to uplift our men. And that young boys know that they are valued; that our circle isn’t complete without both of them being there. And that’s been an important teaching to remember too. The arts can bring people together and it’s a choice to empower women through movement.
Do you have any encouragement that you’d like to share with parents of young children right now? Because that seems to be a topic of interest and a struggle for some parents in the arts.
There are various things - sharing an introduction to contemporary indigenous dance has offered both me and them an opportunity to move to new ways. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share them with others, especially our youth today.
Through this time, when so many of us aren’t moving as much as maybe we were before, find time in your days to move differently. Whether it’s shaking a body part that we haven’t shaken in a long time, or finding ourselves upside down, crawling on our backs, all the ways that my baby daughter is showing me how to move again. All the ways that we as humans can find some rejuvenation, some peace, all in movement.
Another big part of that is also to look at the beautiful balance between our breath and between our blood moving through our bodies, the air moving through our lungs, our feet touching the earth. This can ground us in our experience, so that we can feel strong, and feel the joy of being connected with our world.
And finally, Look to the sky to be inspired by the movements of the clouds, look to the trees to be inspired by the movement of new growth and a gentle flutter of leaves on branches, all of these are dances that we can embody and we can take into our experience.
Thank you to Oliva for sharing with us!