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Dancing Earth in Aotearoa

by Jack Gray
November 8, 2013
Wellington Opera House
111/113 Manners St, Te Aro
Wellington, OT (New Zealand) 6011
+64 4-801 4231
www.dancingearth.org

Jack Gray as dramaturg and choreographic support for Dancing Earth also appeared briefly onstage as an ancestor figure in the production. He helped contextualize the Indigenous relationships between Maori and Native American peoples for this version of the show in Aotearoa only.
For the first time in living memory, a visit to Aotearoa (New Zealand) by a Native American contemporary dance company - in this case, Santa Fe based Dancing Earth - reciprocated an important cultural exchange between Maori and our indigenous cousins.

Irrepressible dreamer and visionary, Rulan Tangen - the company's tireless Artistic Director - drew 12 years of research collecting intertribal stories of the Indigenous Grandmothers in a prophetic dance theatre retelling through traditional dance movement, symbolic patterns reflecting ancient motifs, and dreamscapes that gave mystic and horrifying real scenarios exploring the consequences of human activity surrounding the pollution and greed in mismanagement of tribal waterways. The consequences are potentially devastating.

The work "Dancing at the Edge of Water" was presented in a heavily trimmed suite of seven scenes. Edited down from a full scale 90 minute work (premiered at the Lensic Theatre, New Mexico last September) the work has survived the realities of a non funded dance company by its adaptability. Since then with a cast of 17 performers from 21 First Nations from North America, the piece has continued to evolve and it's iterations have been seen on different dancers bodies in performances in New Mexico, at a festival in New York and now in its greatest migration to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa.

The Kowhiti Festival run by Merenia and Tanemahuta Gray, is based in the capital city of Wellington, New Zealand and shares aspirations that align with Dancing Earth, as a vehicle for Maori and Indigenous contemporary dance exchange. The programme featured a showcase performance with Dancing Earth leading the charge, followed by Baiwa Dance Company of the Torres Strait Islands, and four New Zealand works - one each by the Festival directors, and two solos by contemporary dance practitioner Louise Potiki Bryant and electric boogaloo expert Future Fame.

Dancing Earth was comprised of a touring party of 9 - an eclectic mix of singers, traditional dancers and contemporary dancers. Bridging the world between the traditional elements and making relevant to the generation of today takes some coaxing - however Tangen provides every opportunity for her youthful charges to thrive. Part of the deal is the mentoring process as well as the acknowledgement that for many of these dancers - it is a first time out of the United States and also a first time being incubated in an indigenous context.

An Aotearoa based production team (Terri Crawford, Marama Lloyd, Kath Akuhata Brown and myself) provided first hand support and insight into the cultural protocols and ceremony in this country - hosting our visitors like family on our traditional Marae (meeting house) including 2 weeks of living intensely together - sleeping in one room, welcoming guests into the Marae, cooking and cleaning and eating together. Such were the ways of our ancestors.

The performances of Dancing Earth at Kowhiti were exemplary and affecting. Audiences here were treated to a new experience yet the message was poignant, real and familiar somehow. The dancers themselves were treated like the dignataries they are - and enjoyed the attention of festival goers and participants including the US Embassy in New Zealand.

As a first journey to Aotearoa, Dancing Earth excelled and have now created a familial link with this land in a deep way that goes beyond the theatre. They lived in harmony with the people and energies of our island and as one dancer acknowledged "Well, we come from Turtle Island - so we are all Islanders".

Congratulations Dancing Earth.

Tihei Mauriora (Breath of Life).
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