Dancing to the Heartbeat of the Earth
By Kathleen Kingsley
You know you’re seeing something that speaks a universal message when your fellow audience members from Syria, Nepal, and Uruguay share your enthusiasm for a dance that clearly transcends the specific characteristics of its deep ritual roots.
Attending Dancing Earth’s performance of Walking at the Edge of Water in September, 2012, at The Lensic in Santa Fe offered deep refreshment in the world of theatrical dance that is too often full of technically brilliant work but ultimately impoverished of meaning. What a pleasure to see dancers dancing their hearts out in clearly conceived and beautifully executed work by choreographer/dancer Rulan Tangen. Tangen offered a commanding performance, and fellow dancer and artistic collaborator Jack Gray was simply fierce. The entire company breathed life into the concept of dance as ritual, of artists and shamans who help us transcend our ordinary ways of looking at and experiencing the world.
Dance is power.
It is transcendent – ineffable. The language of dance is old, even preceding speech. It has the ability to move us deeply. Tangen understands this intuitively, and is able to reach into her own (mixed Indigenous) roots to create memorable art that reintegrates theatrical dance with knowledge of who we are in the greater design, teaching truths about the natural world and our place in it. She reminds us that we were all indigenous once and that we all share a common language that transcends borders and nationalities. Her multicultural company members embody a vision of a world that transmits meaning through dance -as expression of our emotions, our desires, our hopes, our fears -and, most importantly, our relationships…with each other, our communities, and our planet. Dancing Earth crafts truth as well as beauty.
What has continued to resonate with me from watching this and one other performance by Dancing Earth is the urgency of its message. Dance, at its best, encompasses and expresses the whole of what it is to be human. It is at the core of all human art forms -and we know this when we watch it and feel it tingle along our spines, awakening some part of ourselves that was dormant or only felt in our dreams. We don’t know exactly what to call it, this physical and spiritual awakening, but we recognize it immediately when we are in its presence. Tangen’s work, like that of Urban Bush Women’s Jawole Zollar, is visionary in scope. Both of these women capture something vital in the fabric of the American experience. In Zollar’s case, it is the ability of African American women to endure and transcend the social and economic conditions that have restricted and defined them for so long. Tangen’s is the indigenous message of the healing power of the earth and the necessity of walking in harmony and balance. Both speak truth to power, and both manifest their authority through the language of dance. That is the essence, the power, and the gift of Dancing Earth.
Dance -don’t walk -to catch them the next time Tangen and her dancers take the stage. You’ll be transformed, as I and my international friends and students were, as we left the theatre in awe at their performance in September. We have all too few opportunities for these shared moments of being in the presence of great art as glimpsed in the rhythmic sounds and dancing bodies of Dancing Earth. Kathleen Kingsley is a choreographer and dance educator based in Tecolote, NM. She is a co- founder of City in Motion Dance Theater and Children’s Dance Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, and currently teaches dance at United World College in Montezuma, NM. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org