“As a first journey to Aotearoa, Dancing Earth excelled and has now created a familial link with this land in a deep way that goes beyond the theatre.” – Jack Gray of Atamira Dance Company in his Review
We want to share some highlights of our historic tour to New Zealand, a first for Native Contemporary dance. Words can’t express the flow of knowledge, care, and beauty we exchanged in body, mind, heart, and spirit. Because you are part of our circle, we offer this peak into our journey through Aotearoa.
Before leaving the southwest at the end of October, our New Mexico company members—Rulan Tangen, Sina Soul, Ria Thundercloud, Shane Montoya, Lexi Hodell and Anne Pesata—offered an open rehearsal at Santa Fe Soul. Our New Mexico community gave us an amazing send off, with several friends bestowing gifts on the dancers. Many of these were given as offerings for our Maori, including: a beautiful beaded medicine pouch from Shash who also blessed us with a Dine song, swirled metal pendants from Kenneth Johnson, beaded jewelry from Yvette, and vintage jewelry from Marga. Special thanks to Valeria Alarcon and Daniel Banks for MC’ing this warm gathering!
The Long Journey
We flew on a red eye and met the rest of the company ( Eagle, Quetzal and Micco) at LAX. Flying to Aotearoa, we crossed the international date line, leaving Saturday evening and arriving Monday morning !
On this debut tour 2013, our mutual ongoing commitment between indigenous contemporary dance communities between Turtle Island and Aotearoa is shown by the gifting of this pendant, by Terri to Micco.
Pōwhiri – Welcoming
Upon landing, we went directly to the wondrous Tapu Te Ranga Marae on the outskirts of Wellington. Built with salvaged materials by Maori youth, this marae holds many stories and has hosted many international guests over the years. It was an ideal home and land for our arrival.
Before entering, we dressed in our formal outfits and arranged our gift offerings, with the ladies standing in front of the men as instructed according to marae’s specific protocols. Beckoned by a call from within its walls, our beloved Maori colleagues Terri Ripeka Crawford and Tracey Marama Lloydd responded by singing us in. Upon entering we were welcomed in the Maori language by the marae host, and two of our male artists, Quetzal Guerrero and Micco Samspon, were selected to speak and followed by songs in our respective Native languages. This traditional ‘Pōwhiri’ welcoming made a strong impression and was the first of many we experienced during the trip.
Our dear friend Jack Gray joined us at the marae, as did the brilliant filmmaker Kath Akuhata Brown. We also made new friends across the 2 weeks including the wonderful Chelita, Geraldine, Nathan and many more.
Working Nestled into the Land
We were shown the grounds and the sleeping room which was decorated with carved wooden iconography and paintings of goddesses. Accordingly to traditional custom we would all share the space communally. We worked out kitchen and cleanup duties so we could all take care of the space and each other, with the communal dining area serving as our rehearsal studio. For our week-long stay, we were nestled into the land and ancestors, eating, sleeping, cooking, cleaning, dancing, singing, and creating as one ensemble.
Kōwhiti director Tanemahuta Gray joined us for the introduction circle held late that night, where we all had a chance to speak about our cultural and artistic backgrounds, and our reasons for coming to Aotearoa. It was a powerful evening! Throughout the week, various cultural sharings—Poi by Terri, Haka by Jack, Song/Language by Tracey, and filmed interviews by Kath—all deepened our cultural experience.
After a week of morning warmups by Rulan or Jack, and long rehearsal days, as well as a lot of healthy cooking and cleaning (Micco tried his first oyster!), we were ready for the theater and transferred to the Manyssey University marae which was walking distance from the Wellington Opera House.
Thank you Chelita Dearsley Ogier and Geraldine Cowan for feeding us!
Flowing into the City
Wherever we went in the city of Wellington, there were Festival posters featuring Rulan! We were very excited for the first studio rehearsal of the full program, which included incredible dance artists from New Zealand, Torres Straits, and Australia. Their artistic work was outstanding, and we enjoyed becoming friends while staying together at the marae.
As luck would have it, Zulu Nation brought the “NY 2 NZ” Hiphop festival to Wellington. Naturally our b-boys Lexi Hodell and Shuga Shane participated whenever possible. Fresh off our August NYC tour, Shuga Shane Montoya threw down in the B-boy battle, winning first place, and bringing a new meaning to “NY 2 NZ”! Dancing Earth is proud to say he “healed it” from the edge of turtle Island to the far edge of the pacific!
Our company also had a chance to see a student concert at Whitireia Community Polytechnic University. We were amazed to learn that this institute offers a Bachelor’s of Applied Arts to develop knowledge of Māori, Samoan, Cook Islands, and NZ contemporary dance. We need a comparable initiative in this hemisphere! Are we ready for DANCING EARTH International Indigenous Institute?
2013 Kowhiti Festival : Atarau-Beam of Light
The festival officially launched on November 6th, with, of course, a Pōwhiri! We were warmly welcomed by the US Ambassador to NZ, David Huebner, who presented each company member with a special rare coin medallion symbolizing good relations between the people of the USA and New Zealand – what an honor!
For next two days, Whitireia hosted an academic symposium punctuated by Rulan Tangen’s opening keynote address, and Sina Soul’s acclaimed lecture on the diasporic indigenous roots of HipHop culture—previously seen at TedX ABQ.
Dancing Earth was honored to present 3 performances at the Wellington Opera House, including one for hundreds of students!
In excerpts from WALKING AT THE EDGE OF WATER, we shared Native understandings of water in a piece created by 17 dance artists and over 45 cultural advisors from as many First Nations. Each performance ended with all the festival performers onstage encircling Micco Sampson as he shared his hoop dance—a poignant embodiment of the creative overlap and unification of many circles brought together for the Kōwhiti Festival.
“[Their piece was] vigorous, heartfelt work that urges us all to protect this dwindling essential element” – Ann Hunt’s Review, Dominion Post
“the dancers execute unisons with nuanced differences presenting an innovative cultural spectrum that brings the traditional into the now” – Linda Ashley’s Review
Micco was subsequently invited to present his hoop dance/lecture about the knowledge imbedded within this dance at the Emerging Choreographers Showcase at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. Dancing Earth also provided dance workshops to 67 Maori schoolchildren on the Opera House stage, as well as to an inter-cultural and inter-generational community at the stunningly beautiful marae within Te Papa Museum, further expanding our mission to provide vital cultural exchange.
“Dancing Earth’s visit was the perfect way to share the great richness, exuberance, and complexity of the American story with our friends here in New Zealand…[their show] was and is mesmerizing” US Ambassador David Huebner’s Blog Review
Kia Ora, Aotearoa! Closing Powhiti
At a lovely closing night party hosted by Tanemahuta Gray and Merenia Gray, we expressed our deep gratitude and friendship. With several closing circles which grew smaller as our artist colleagues began heading home, we started to dream up possibilities for future indigenous international collaborations!
Nathan Gray took us on a final tour of Wellington where we offered final blessings with the waters, and with much love in our hearts for the land and the people. Jack Gray proclaimed this appearance of a Native contemporary dance company a historic first within the collective memory, and a significant moment of awakening and solidarity for us as global indigenous artists. We invoked the names of our pioneers and mentors who had inspired this path, including Raoul Trujillo, Alejandro Ronceria, Rosalie Jones, Marrie Mumford, and shared a prophecy song given to Rulan by Edna Manitowabi.
Dancing Earth was humbled to have experienced such success and fulfillment; we are grateful for having brought our energies with passionate commitment to this weaving together of peoples, and with each dancing step we open the path for more to come!
COMPANY MEMBER REFLECTIONS:
My time with Dancing Earth in New Zealand was amazing in every sense of the word. The experience illuminated the beautiful sense of connectivity that transcends barriers of culture, geography, and silly things like socially constructed preconceptions. The people I encountered offered unmatched kindness and support both for the integrity of the work and my experience in New Zealand as a whole. Sharing Dancing Earth’s message, and being able to embody the work has been one of the greatest privileges I have known in my time. In this nurturing and transformative environment it was almost impossible to not grow and develop as an artist. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share the experience with so many amazing and incredibly talented people; the cultural exchange was rewarding and enlightening. Though the hours were long and the task of bringing the work to the stage difficult to accomplish, every ounce of energy was well worth the effort and the rewards more than any artist can hope to receive. From the sensation of waves rolling at my feet, to the sounds of an opera house echoing with applause, and the unmatched intensity in a live haka, every experience was immeasurable and unforgettable. I will forever treasure the time I spent there and the amazing people I encountered.
The cooking and eating together was quite an experience…I tell people back in the states how we lived for two weeks and their first response was “wow”. I could see that, but actually being there and experiencing it brought me closer to everyone in the company and I felt more of a bonding experience than I have in the past. We became a family on the stage and off and I could really feel that during the performance!
New Zealand was such a beautiful country to visit, from the moment we landed the scenery was green, full of life, and vibrant. The Maori treated us with the most love and compassion, and was honored to be a part of their culture, lifestyle, and community. From the first powhiri to the many we experienced throughout our journey, the understanding of life, connections, and people was always present. Distant cousins if you must, with a love for life and the importance of connecting with the Earth for humanities sake.
Being a cultural ambassador on many levels made this trip very different and unique. I was representing my family, my culture, my ancestors on many different levels so I was very aware and wanted to leave a lasting impression. All the people I met and spoke with were very open and wanted to learn more about each others lifestyle that it was such a great experience. I have a great appreciation for the amount of people who knew their language and how the country really supported the Maori way of life. I saw a respect for culture , people, and nature that made me smile.
This trip allowed me to connect with the New Zealand community in a way that I won’t forget. From winning a Breakdance competition to dancing at the Opera House as the first Native American Contemporary Dance Company was such a blessing and a huge achievement in my life. The experience, inspiration, and sharing of ideas and energy was alone enough to ignite myself to continue to elevate in life. My friends and family are very happy, but I couldnt do this without them, and without people in my life supporting and guiding me through my journey.
A Meeting of Indigenous Dancer/Scholars
At the invitation of devoted indigenous dance scholar and advocate Professor Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Terri and Rulan left New Zealand to join powerful Native women leaders at the joint conference of the Congress of Research in Dance and Society of Dance History Scholars, held in Riverside California. The conference was welcomed in with songs from the Marcus family, of local Cahuilla First Nation, and on the final day was completed by a bird singing panel with Will Madrigal and Michael Tsosie, which allowed the conference to be appropriately framed by the local Indigenous knowledge. Attended by a stellar, international array of dance academics (including the brilliant Ananya Chattarjea of University of Minnesota and Ananya Dance Theater), the conference included an Indigenous dance panel moderated by Professor Shea Murphy. The panel featured the powerful voices of Terri Ripeka Crawford of Korou Productions presenting “Creative Research Practice in Mâori Dance Opera”, Karyn Recollet of University of Sudbory presenting “Between the break beats: Embodiment and principles for social change” ; and Mique’l Dangeli presenting “Dancing Our Politics: “Protocol” in Northwest Coast First Nations Dance,” with Rulan Tangen as the moderator and responder.
After-panel circle w/ Tantoo Cardinal (third from L), Karyn Recollet (in yellow), Terri Crawford (2nd from R), Mique’l D’angeli (btm R), Rulan Tangen, and Jacqueline Shea Murphy (next to Rulan)”
Special congratulations to Mique’l, who made history by winning the Selma Jean Cohen award for her academic work! This event was a landmark for the dance world, putting Indigenous consciousness not only on the map, but at the central core !
This unforgettable November ends with a peaceful sense of appreciation, gratitude, and fulfillment at having experienced dreams that had been cultivated for years – even lifetimes. We are encouraging ourselves and all in our circle to keep dreaming in full color, and bringing those dreams to life!
In December Dancing Earth will finish up the year at the Native Wellness Institute conference in San Diego and the National Performance Network Conference in New Orleans, and spend the winter making plans for sustainability for the year ahead , with seeds for more great dreams ahead !