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Island butoh dancer inducted into Canadian dance hall of fame

Barbara Bourget was born in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island
Barbara Bourget is a dancer and the co-founder of Kokoro Dance. (PHOTO COURTESY PETER EASWOOD)

Barbara Bourget has danced all over Canada. But she got her start in the small Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni.

Bourget was born in Port Alberni in 1950, but moved to Burnaby with her parents when she was very young. She first started out tap dancing when she was just four years old.

“I haven’t stopped dancing since then,” Bourget laughed during an interview with the Alberni Valley News.

Bourget studied ballet through her school years with Mara McBirney in Vancouver, and then won a scholarship to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. After this, she ended up dancing in Montreal for a little while.

But the west coast kept calling her back, Bourget explained. She returned to Vancouver and ended up joining the Paula Ross Dance Company, where she met her partner, Jay Hirabayashi. She and Hirabayashi were both inducted into the Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame on Sunday, Oct. 2 in Toronto, recognized for their significant contribution to the introduction and practice of butoh in Canada.

Bourget says she first saw a butoh show at Robson Square in Vancouver, and it changed her perspective about what dance could be. Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre, usually characterized by arrhythmic, contorted dance movements and by dancers wearing white body paint and shaved heads.

“It was the way they moved their bodies,” Bourget explained. “It’s slow and concentrated, but it can also be very fast.”

Bourget and Hirabayashi formed Kokoro Dance in 1986, taking its name from the Japanese word kokoro – meaning heart, soul and spirit. They have built a significant repertoire for Kokoro, often co-choreographing and melding the aesthetics and philosophies of butoh with Western dance forms. Kokoro continues to offer classes in both Western modern dance and in butoh aesthetics in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“We keep working because we both love it so much,” said Bourget.

Bourget and Hirabayashi also produce the annual Vancouver International Dance Festival, featuring local, national, and international dance artists in performances and workshops.

The announcement that Bourget and Hirabayashi would be inducted into the Hall of Fame came “completely out of the blue,” said Bourget. She received the phone call in February and experienced a moment of regret, since her mother and sister would not be able to attend the event. Her sister died in 2006, while her mother died in 2009.

“For me, it’s bittersweet,” she said. “They both supported me so much.”

At the same time, she added, the induction is “a great honour” that she did not expect.

“I really love creating something for bodies that are not themselves, but a reflection of who we are as people,” she said. “I don’t know what else I would do. I think it’s who I am—I think I was born to dance.”

Bourget returned to the place where she was born, Port Alberni, for the first time in decades this summer.

“It’s a beautiful place,” she said. “I feel very much connected to the rainforest and to this Island. I’ve lived on the West Coast my whole life.”

Dance Collection Danse is a national, non-profit charitable organization dedicated to Canadian dance history. The Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame was designed with the guidance of a launch committee of digital, arts, and event industry leaders.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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