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Janet Eigner
Performance Reviews
Indigenous Contemporary
Skylight Music Hall Santa Fe
United States
New Mexico
Santa Fe, NM

Rulan Tangen's Dancing Earth - Origin-ation: : Roots and Seeds

by Janet Eigner
August 24, 2014
Skylight Music Hall Santa Fe
139 W. San Francisco St.
Santa Fe, NM 87501
140 character review:
Origin-ation / Dancing Earth /NM - international, interdisciplinary, indigenous, intensive, incredible! exploredance.com/article.htm?id=3857
For the past ten years, while performing around the country and the continent with her company, Dancing Earth, Rulan Tangen began to ask the tribal-wise what topics held the most concern for them. Repeatedly, they told her of their worries about water loss, pollution, and about seeds in metaphorical and literal descriptions. The elders wanted the best wisdom of their ancient cultures to continue being planted, sprouted, watered and renewed, from seeds of their traditional crops (corn, squash and beans) to the conservation of water, air and the planet, to the preservation of spiritual practices. Tangen distilled her several years of dialogues with indigenous elders.

But this project didn't involve her artistic company of indigenous, contemporary dancers, artists and musicians. Last year, she broadcast a call for indigenous artists, local, national and international. The selected 25 artists traveled in August to New Mexico's high mesas from 13 countries and 25 sovereign First Nations. She named them cultural ambassadors.

Choreographer-dancer and one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" in 2007, Tangen (Metis) brought the most recent elaboration of a seed theme, based on tribal elders' concerns, to this newest project. A former modern dancer in Michael Mao's New York company, Tangen then formed Dancing Earth in Santa Fe and San Francisco, performing for the last decade.

In keeping with a collaborative tribal communication and choreographic process, Tangen focuses on the telling of native stories and themes. Besides modern technique, the company incorporates contemporary and tribal dance genres. Contortions, aerial circus skills, powwow social dance, live drumming, singing and flute music were interspersed with a taped score. Static tableaus were interwoven with skillful contemporary movement.

Origi-nation evolved as a potlatch, a salamagundi of dance styles and seed stories. In Santa Fe, between the cultural ambassadors' rehearsals for the culmination performance were Dancing Earth's flash dances around the city plaza, their blessing dances on ancient tribal reservations, and conversations with the nearby Tesuque and Pojoaque pueblo tribes.

The co-created work that emerged from its two-week immersion in not only Tangen's own ideas and movements related to seed, but from a carefully drawn-out and fertile conversation and collaboration with the dancers, singers, painters, tekkies, musicians and photographers brought together for the first time. They ably and skillfully created a work of the spheres. The mood of the work was intense and fascinating. Wind-whipped, feverish movement was the glue that melded one vignette onto the next.

As the audience entered the Skylight Music Hall's roofless atrium, a poster had offered an overview of Origin-ation's focus: May the web of life trap all energetic discord upon entering, while catching your positive dreams and visions to send them down…that they be planted in the world.

Reminiscent of the informal mood when the character of the stage manager appears in Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, Rulan herself appeared at the inception and end of the work in a janitor's jumpsuit, unobtrusively pushing a broom across the floor of the performance space, easily mistaken by those who didn't recognize her, for a service aide. She reappeared vividly and recostumed in a solo where she seemed to be struggling to burst out of a seed casing. Tangen also danced as part of a trio.

The creation stories of many indigenous cultures glowed and popped in the light of Dancing Earth's communal reconstruction. Following Tangen's slow sweep of the stage floor, came the glacially slow emergence, feet-first, of a kneeling Coman Poon *(Hong Kong, ) sarong-wrapped, his face and body yellowed with pollen. He backed out from under a space beneath a low platform bracketed with two even lower and smaller stair-platforms. A breech birth such as Poon created, produced a healthy infant — the SRO audience witnessed a rich series of bold fragments that described the cyclic processes of birth, life, decline, death and rebirth.

The creation story's slow beginning immediately changed to a sprinting speed, as the dancers, two or three at a time, brought a salamagundi of dance styles depicting birth and emergence into the earth sphere, its strife and survival struggles, a descent into popular culture and its unhealthy fast food, its junk, then a stately and silken blessing ritual over vessels of water.

The unusual commandeering of a cozy space that held 60 seats with a 360 degree balcony and a large skylight allowed three metaphorical emergence levels — the high balcony with a low, wrought iron fence as the place of the ancestors, where dancers and actors leaned into and focused on the action below. Four flags hung from the balcony's railing, each holding the Mayan glyph that symbolized one of the four directions. Most of the dancing took place on the temporal plane — a low, narrow platform at ground level, representing the earth. Below the temporal plane, the nether world, place of emergence lay demarcated by a thin, short draped curtain that surrounded the space under the platform.

In performance, the words of the atrium prayer came alive —Dancing Earth presented a kaleidoscope of bright, whirling images throughout the evening. Short dance vignettes were strung together in an 80 minute work that resembled, energy-wise, the revolving, sparkling-hoops corralled and manipulated into linked shapes during the dance of Lumhe Micco Sampson (Seneca and Creek). Andrea Rose Bear King (Ojibwe and Lakota) danced of berry-picking as well as in a fast-food burlesque with Justin Gichm (Navajo and German).

Styles of dance ranged from powwow to hip hop to modern and contemporary movement. Dancers and actors switched levels (eg. A belly dancer stood on the balcony where a bare-chested man blew a conch shell.) In the crowded, intimate setting of a seething tableau, the Guatamalan performance artists —Maria Firmina-Castillo (Mestizo) and Tohil Fidel Bernal (Mayan) created a sense of a Mayan village busy with life. That sense of a crowd mingling and quietly surrounding the ongoing dance vignettes was a constant theme and another thru-thread that bound the performance.

A belly dancer undulated. A woman appeared and reappeared in black lace skirt and mantilla that barely covered her bare chest. A woman in white lace leaned over the balcony and walked among the diners who had settled their dinners at tables against the balcony's wrought iron fencing.

Because Tangen's choreography style increasingly incorporates the idea of a movement collaboration, her own silken, spiraling style of modern dance appeared not as a through thread but in a solo of her own and one she designed for Anne Pesata (Jicarilla Apache) as a basket weaver.

Tangen's moves were continuous, elastic, and silkily vivid as she danced from lying on the floor to bent knees to standing and back down as she might have been portraying a seed struggling to sprout, then grown to maturity, wilting, returning to compost .

Pesata, an actual fifth generation basket weaver, used continuous and fluid movements as she wove her arms to portray making a basket. Three men appeared with willow twigs in their hands, quietly, attentively watching, acknowledging respect for this feminine activity. This sense of great dignity pervaded the dancers' demeanor throughout the work.

Tangen said that almost every artist had multiple roles as dancers, artists, costume makers, writing text or drawings that went into the installations, collecting found materials, leading trainings in morning rehearsals, coaching, cooking, story sharing and adding to the cultural exchange.

Like the metaphor in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, Origi-nation presented the story of life-forms emerging , finding the earth-globe like a pot that had been shattered; their job on earth — to gather the sparks or shards of the orb to restore its wholeness — that mission was the continually stimulating, engrossing and well-done performance.

Tangen is cobbling aesthetic and native community pride, an enormously important function at this time in this society.
Anne Pesata in 'Basket Weaver' from Dancing Earth's ORIGIN-ATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Anne Pesata in 'Basket Weaver' from Dancing Earth's ORIGIN-ATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Photo © & courtesy of Yoeme Homari

Trey Pickett in 'Bird and freedom seeds' from Dancing Earth's ORIGIN-ATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Trey Pickett in 'Bird and freedom seeds' from Dancing Earth's ORIGIN-ATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Photo © & courtesy of Yoeme Homari

Lumhe Micco Sampsin in 'Fire of Renewal' from Dancing Earth's ORIGI-NATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Lumhe Micco Sampsin in 'Fire of Renewal' from Dancing Earth's ORIGI-NATION: ROOTS AND SEEDS

Photo © & courtesy of Yoeme Homari

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