April 20, 2019
Wise Fool, Santa Fe
Rulan Tangen’s company, Dancing Earth, performed the culmination of a six-year project called …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… in Santa Fe this April. After the audience arrived to watch the show at Wise Fool, the first action of the work was a Tewa ritual to transform and Indigenize the space. Tangen then removed her socks, saying, “Now I can place my feet on this sacred Tewa land.” It was a powerful opening to a piece that arises from Indigenous dialogues and was, on that occasion, being witnessed by a mostly non-Indigenous audience. We were now in a different space.
The dance traces a meditative journey from creation to the dismaying current condition of our planet and ends with an expression of hope. The creative process behind this piece involved intertribal exchanges between artists, Native elders, farmers, foragers, seed savers, and food and water justice groups. “It’s an emergent process,” Tangen explains. “One of our greatest tools of resilience is the quality of our storytelling. It is how Indigenous people retain connection to who we are.”
In fact, Dancing Earth describes SEEDS as a participatory ritual of restoring/restorying. It is based not just on the sharing of stories from the past but also on considerations of the present and possible futures. “We share our stories to acknowledge and respect the differences between Indigenous peoples. This engagement revitalizes aspects of Indigenous exchange and, we hope, leads to intercultural exchange,” says Tangen. “We are creating the dances we need now.”
We are creating the dances we need now.
Dancing Earth is a contemporary Indigenous dance company. Many sacred and ancient stories in Indigenous cultures are expressed through dance. The company draws on the power of these dances from different First Nations to create its choreography. Many of the dances are rooted to a specific time and place. Dancing Earth investigates their meanings through forms fused with contemporary movement idioms, allowing the company to protect the original dances’ integrity and authenticity. “We dance to explore and renew cosmologies, to create rituals for our time and place,” says Tangen. “We can find this kinetic knowledge that is wordless. It is an ancestral and futuristic way of knowing.”
To return focus to the piece from the process, after a period of cooperation between the dancers—audiences used to more Western movement styles might recognize elements of contact improv—a dancer in the guise of something like a degenerate bird monster appears on the scene. She is powerful, moves sensually, and is straight-up disturbing. The creature’s face is a grotesque gas-mask twist on traditional ritual masks. Its skirt (skimpy in the front and decadently sprawling in the back, leaving its wake behind it) is composed of garbage. The creature seems to be a symbol for the temptations of individual luxury and gain at the expense of balance and health. The dancers embody succumbing to this, and the result is devastation. It may seem like a predictable sequence, but the impact is shocking. The dancers so powerfully and empathetically convey the horror, agony, and utter sorrow that come with this loss that it racks the audience.
The creature seems to be a symbol for the temptations of individual luxury and gain at the expense of balance and health. The dancers embody succumbing to this, and the result is devastation.
After an uncomfortably (completely appropriately) long time feeling this fall, a dancer emerges trailing a silken river. She slowly pours her way across the stage. The dancers rejoice—as humans and as seeds that can grow. The piece ends with the audience invited to participate in the ritual, joining the dancers on stage in an exuberant circle. It is awesome, in the original sense of the word.
Dancing Earth took this work to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage just after the Santa Fe performance. Tangen and the company received a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellowship, which is awarded to work expressing the values of service, justice, courage, freedom, and gratitude. The company will be performing a new piece, Between Underground and Skyworld, on July 12, 2019 at the James A. Little Theater in Santa Fe.