BWW Review: RE(D)GENERATION Comes from the Earth at the Center For Contemporary Arts
I was looking for Rulan Tangen, director of Dancing Earth, at Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, in Abiquiu (where Dancing Earth was conducting a week of rehearsal), where I had been working for the summer. I wanted to ask her for tickets to review the company's "Re(d)generation" performance on August 21 at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Santa Fe.
I approached the company dancers in the dining hall, who were loading up on yogurt, eggs, toast, fruit, granola, milk. . .fuel for for their upcoming fourteen-hour rehearsal.
Soon, this diverse crew of men and women, all of indigenous heritage, would leap (twist, bend, shake, crawl, and every imaginable distinct bodily expression) into the multi-room, sparsely-set CCA basement. Through this movement, they would transform a bare space into a living landscape: a running river, loamy soil, growing field...inhabiting this land as an ecosystem of creature characters.
They are contemporary dancers: Characterized by long-form scenes crafted the night before the show (and on the spot, through improvisation) interconnecting several open storylines, physically guiding the audience in and out of many locations and moods, incorporating ethereal soundscapes and heavy beats (remixes of traditional Native American music) and videos projected videos on the wall (dancers on the hills of Ghost Ranch's painted desert, a figure vanishing into a corn field, a woman contemplating sand through her fingertips).
Yet Dancing Earth takes contemporary dance a step further- - -because they root within their immemorial indigenous identity. At their performance, they would hand out balls of dark mud wrapped in corn husks, and ask their audience "do you want to plant a seed?"- - -a distinct act of fecundity in an all too sterile medium. They were not making abstract gestures through undefined space; their movement was growth, upon a dancing earth.
"I'm looking for your director," I said to the dancers at the Ghost Ranch breakfast table, "Where is he?"
"She," they corrected.
I bit my tongue. "What does she look like?" I asked.
"Fabulous," they said.
Sure enough, when Rulan Tangen found me, and she insisted that I attend both performances on the 22nd so I could see the fullest spectrum of the company's work, I couldn't stop staring at her eye makeup- - -charcoal patterns, extending beyond her eyes and across her face. Soon, I would find myself surrounded by fascinating style like this, as Tangen's dancers, all adorned with evocative elegance, moved around me. Flowing fabric, patterned leotards, shell necklaces, swirls and symbols painted over sculpted bodies with red earth. . .
Yet the dancers were not a bunch of Tangen proteges; each had a distinct style. This was a group of individuals cultivating their independent character. As such, their performance provided extensive space for them to make that independent connection to the landscape and audience.
There would be times when this exploration would stretch on, as the performance struggled to bring these many individuals into a synchronized ensemble. This synchrony, though satisfying when at last it reached a resounding convergence, would sometimes come a little late. In this lateness, the performance would lose some of its immediacy.
Perhaps the reason for this loss is because the identities of the individuals in this ensemble- - -who, together, represent over a dozen nations- - -are not immediately ready to unify. Their performance would highlight this shortcoming. Several times, their exuberant explorations would be interrupted by a negative force: pollution and oppression, personified as a terrifying dark angel in a gas mask and chains, sweeping over the dancers, distorting them and fracturing their earth. This force, both intentionally built in to their craft and unintentionally informing with their imperfections, seems to explain why there are too few moments of ensemble unity: A traumatic disenfranchisement has separated their land and nations.
Tangen was glad that I would be reviewing them because more representation, she said, would empower their company. But honestly, compared with the direct voice of the dancers' bodies, my translations are awfully feeble. To read the word of these nations, just sit with them, and watch them move across the earth.
Top group photo: Photographer Daniel Quat. Dancers L to R : Justin Giehm, Rulan Tangen in repurposed costuming by Connie Windwalker , (on floor) Jade Whannga, Sammy Dizon, Christina Leyva, ( jumping ) Trey Pickett , Anne Pesata (partially hidden), Deollo Johnson, Javier Stell-Fresquez. Video projection by Marion Wasserman , and costuming by Alicia PDesigns, tattoo-tards by Randolph Duke.
Mid photo: Photographer CCA. Guest dancer Christina Leyva of The Bee Project, in art installation by Cannupahanska Luger.
Bottom photo: Photographer AJ Goldman for Dancing Earth. Dancer Natalia Aceves -Ghezzi , with installation by artist Ellen Babcock. Tattoo-tard by Randolph Duke