Chore­og­ra­phy re­ca­pit­u­lates phy­logeny

Pasatiempo - - Cd Reviews - Janet Eigner For The New Mex­i­can

“Now let’s do the sec­tion where you’re sea kelp,” Ru­lan Tan­gen briskly di­rects. The artis­tic di­rec­tor and chore­og­ra­pher of the in­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary dance en­sem­ble Danc­ing Earth is re­hears­ing seven of the show’s 10 dancers at the Col­lege of Santa Fe’s Oñate Hall dance stu­dio. Sev­eral set de­sign­ers, cos­tumers, a guest chore­og­ra­pher, and vis­ual artists are arriving later to pre­pare for the up­com­ing de­but of a col­lab­o­ra­tive piece called Of Bodies, of El­e­ments, in which Tan­gen dances and Hawai­ian na­tive Kalani Queypo is a guest dancer. A preview per­for­mance of the work takes place at the Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute of New Mex­ico’s Dance Barns on Sun­day, Jan. 31. “Like the Bal­lets Russes in the early 20th cen­tury,” Tan­gen notes, “all of the in­dige­nous arts con­verge to cre­ate this work.”

Ge­netic sci­en­tists and as­tronomers have worked to un­ravel and doc­u­ment the ge­netic and atomic ma­te­rial that we share with other species and heav­enly bodies, but in­dige­nous tribes have long be­lieved that hu­mans share vi­tal con­nec­tions with “all our re­la­tions” (as Wi­nona LaDuke wrote in her 1999 book of the same ti­tle). Tan­gen takes as in­spi­ra­tion in­dige­nous peo­ple’s ori­gin sto­ries from all sides of the globe. She chore­ographs th­ese sto­ries, made vivid with cos­tum­ing, hair­styles, and body paint. Th­ese are not sa­cred dances, though she is in­flu­enced by the forms and move­ment lan­guage of tra­di­tional Na­tive dance. Green is the theme of this new pro­duc­tion from her com­pany— eco­log­i­cal and cul­tural sus­tain­abil­ity. Sets (made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als), cos­tumes, body paint, and lighting (so­lar-pow­ered) are de­signed with the aim of lim­it­ing the com­pany’s car­bon foot­print.

Tan­gen didn’t start out her ca­reer with an in­dige­nous fo­cus. Though her mixed an­ces­try in­cludes Cana­dian Métis, she first learned bal­let’s clas­si­cal dis­ci­pline and then mod­ern dance vo­cab­u­lary. Her pow­er­ful, grace­ful tech­nique and beauty pro­pelled her into New York mod­ern dance com­pa­nies that toured the world. But mod­ern dance wasn’t ful­fill­ing her need to cre­ate and present in­dige­nous cul­ture through dance.

Tan­gen re­al­ized that fol­low­ing her own drum­beat meant de­vel­op­ing young Na­tive dancers who could share her cul­tural vi­sion. Hers was a hard ride on the bumpy but ex­cit­ing per­for­mance road for the last 12 years, grad­u­ally mak­ing progress and con­tin­u­ing to se­lect fine com­pany dancers dur­ing her trav­els, which have in­cluded chore­ograph­ing for, danc­ing, and act­ing in films, in­clud­ing Apoca­lypto and The NewWorld. She hires al­ready pol­ished dancers from clas­si­cal, jazz, break dance, and mod­ern back­grounds for Danc­ing Earth. Con­cur­rent with the Her­culean ef­forts in­volved in de­vel­op­ing a dance com­pany, Tan­gen was treated for can­cer. Out of this health chal­lenge came in­spi­ra­tion for a cre­ation story to be per­formed by the artists who be­came the core of her com­pany, which was for­mally cre­ated in 2004.

Tan­gen writes in an es­say for a forth­com­ing an­thol­ogy by in­dige­nous dance pi­o­neers that, in her com­pany, “We go through a se­ries of ex­er­cises of un­mak­ing, of re­turn­ing the body into raw in­stinct. ... We seek out the move­ment from the mar­row. ... Then, by in­cor­po­ra­tion of in­dige­nous lan­guage and sound pat­terns and philoso­phies, we start to find rhythms and mo­tions that bring ar­tic­u­la­tion to the pri­mor­dial ooze.” She in­sists that each mem­ber of Danc­ing Earth makes con­cep­tual and move­ment-spe­cific con­tri­bu­tions to the work.

Eric Gar­cia Lopez, a U.S.-born dancer of in­dige­nous Mex­i­can lin­eage, dances the part of a flow­ing bird and as a break dancer in re­hearsal. He speaks of Tan­gen as a vi­sion­ary. “Ru­lan’s un­like any other artis­tic di­rec­tor or chore­og­ra­pher I’ve ever worked for. She’s ex­tremely con­cep­tual, pulling from dif­fer­ent folk sto­ries and Na­tive be­liefs. I had a lot of con­fu­sion grow­ing up as a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can. This work re­ally got me closer to the roots of in­dige­nous peo­ple of this con­ti­nent. She brings the con­cepts to life and re­news the spirit within.”

Ser­ena Ras­con, a New Mex­ico na­tive, de­scribes Tan­gen as a strong woman, a model, and a men­tor. “This work is about in­ten­tion and pur­pose and de­vel­op­ing con­scious breath. She gives us counts and an idea, like mov­ing through air or mud, and we all in­ter­pret it dif­fer­ently.”

Tan­gen en­listed Edgar Soto Gar­cia when she dis­cov­ered he was both a hair­dresser and a dra­matic break-danc­ing tal­ent. Now he brings both skill sets to her com­pany. “And I do the Rope Duet in the sec­ond act. I cut the um­bil­i­cal cord at­tached to na­ture and the old ways, which sets us up for gen­er­a­tions of drought.”

Djallo John­son de­scribes Tan­gen as ex­cel­lent at pick­ing dancers who quickly de­velop an en­er­getic syn­ergy. “I re­spect her in­ten­tion­al­ity, her honor, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and rev­er­ence for the el­ders. She is like a sculp­tor, and we’re clay. She says, ‘ Let me see what kind of clay you have.’ ”

Tan­gen sits at the front of the room, her back to the full-length mir­ror, near her pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant, Ale­jan­dro Quin­tana, who fo­cuses on play­ing the right mu­sic tracks and tim­ing each dance. All along the phy­lo­ge­netic tree the com­pany goes, and back again, with the dancers be­com­ing stars, shiny star­dust, a mythic woman who falls from the stars, spi­ders, cater­pil­lars, clay, a dead-ringer for a scor­pion, tur­tle, bird, rab­bit, air, pray­ing man­tis, dry earth, wa­ter, yucca.

Danc­ing Earth’s riv­et­ing style has at­tracted many in­vi­ta­tions to in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals, cul­tural cen­ters, mu­se­ums, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, and youth

con­fer­ences. The com­pany has toured Canada, Ar­gentina, and Brazil as well as many U.S. lo­cales. Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity re­cently hon­ored Tan­gen as a vis­it­ing scholar and Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity has in­vited Danc­ing Earth to par­tic­i­pate in its Race and the En­vi­ron­ment pro­gram.

Of Bodies, of El­e­ments is funded by a Na­tional Dance Project pro­duc­tion grant (the pro­gram is ad­min­is­tered by the New Eng­land Foun­da­tion for the Arts), sup­ple­mented with con­tri­bu­tions from many lo­cal sources, in­clud­ing the Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute, Santa Fe Opera, the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, Mov­ing Peo­ple Dance Santa Fe, and the Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute of New Mex­ico. Af­ter the pre­miere of Of Bodies, of El­e­ments in Al­bu­querque (pre­sented in con­junc­tion with Global DanceFest and TwoWorlds), Danc­ing Earth plans to tour the new pro­duc­tion in Alaska and at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity, and Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, among other places.

Tan­gen speaks of her yearn­ing for a creative and col­lab­o­ra­tive clan be­fore she formed Danc­ing Earth. “When I dance up on Canyon Road and var­i­ous venues, I feel like the last In­dian on Earth. But now I have, for three weeks, the con­tainer where we can put our­selves and our an­ces­tors into the per­for­mance. We are told we come from the stars. On­stage we won’t be en­tirely hu­man— we’ll be all our re­la­tions.”

Ru­lan Tan­gen

The DNA team: Tan­gen and Danc­ing Earth mem­bers re­hears­ing Of Bodies, of El­e­ments

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