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Dancing Earth's SEEDS: RE GENERATION is a Love Letter to the Planet and a Warning for Humanity

by Leslie Arbogast
October 17, 2017
Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College
1000 Rim Drive
Durango, CO 81301
(970) 247-7657
Despite the beauty and wonder of our planet and its occupants, it is no secret in today’s world that life has become more complex on a multitude of levels. The health of the earth is plummeting, therefore, the health of humanity is falling with it. Heartfelt concern regarding these problems is accumulating in great numbers and once again Indigenous Contemporary dance company, Dancing Earth, is carrying the torch to awaken and inspire audiences around the globe.

Led by Dancing Earth’s founder and artistic director Rulan Tangen, the company wowed the audience in the September 9, 2016 world-premiere of SEEDS: RE GENERATION, at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

The performance was the culmination of a two week residency and collaboration process with residents of Durango that included a community mandala, leadership of “seed ball” creation workshops, spontaneous public performances, and more. The company then transferred the material generated during those two weeks of activities to the stage.

From the work's meaningful message and storytelling through movement to its meticulously-chosen props, regalia and music which was accented by various Indigenous languages (Lakota, Apache, Zuni, Dine, Havasupai, Mayan, Hopi, and more),the audience not only received a gift of performance art, but also a valuable educational experience.

Taken scene-by-scene the production began with Havasupai elder James Uqualla initiating the performance ritual by offering a powerful acknowledgment of the four directions and elements; an honoring bolstered by the heartbeat of Indigenous drumming and song. He then joined four dancers who embodied sacred mountains by stretching their limbs and gravitating toward each other while underneath opaque sheaths of earth-toned cloth. At the moment of their congregation, the mountains “birthed” ancient beings who gradually emerged with a fluidity, strength and grace of motion. Their movements then progressed through various stages, emulating the life-force of rock, four-legged animals, and the relationship between seeds and soil; giving and receiving nutrients, energy, and the magic of life that manifests from that interconnection.

The deer spirit, in human form, was called to the stage next as the dancers elegantly pranced and leaped with diligent strength, accompanied by percussive rhythm and enchanting vocals. Their exit marked the appearance of the star beings who trickled into a central orb of light that served as their communal space for offering gratitude and reverence to a higher power. From this power they received gifts and energy, processing those divine blessings within their impassioned movement and bringing to physical form stories that have been passed down through generations of human beings.
Soothing, yet soul-stirring, cello and violin music drew them through this process and brought forth an ancient feminine spirit.

The entrance of the feminine spirit was slow and purposeful walking with a basket atop her head and a sheer sheath of fabric stretched across her face. The sheath created a sense of “anonymity” that is often noted in Indigenous-inspired and ritual dances during which the dancer covers his/her face as a part of the transformation process from human to ancestor or spirit being. As the female performer representing the feminine spirit traversed the stage, she looked to use her feet to manipulate the soil, creating space for the planting of seeds that are intended to sustain future life. Behind her, stunning multi-media images stretched across the back of the stage and featured aerial video footage of the dancers exploring the majestic red rock formations of Sedona, Arizona.

Those who were called to hunt, plant, and forage then appeared, interactively carrying out their duties, teaching the audience about how these processes occur and are still done in contemporary Indigenous life. This provided a shift in focus toward modern times and was accompanied by a parallel shift in musical accompaniment in the form of infectious Hip-Hop music.

Personified greed then boastfully entered this scene, strutting toward the audience, wearing tattered regalia, with a train covered in trash and rubbish. In her dysfunctional arrogance, she demonstrated the self-proclaimed superiority that is leading humanity and the health of the earth into a downward spiral. With all of her darkness, her movements were borderline violent, exhibiting her dominance, control, and hypnosis over the people. Held captive by her presence, the dancers became submissive, poisoned, and violently ill, collapsing and convulsing in various states of human physical and emotional suffering. Amidst the chaos, a voice came through the music, uttering concern about environmental destruction, natural disasters, climate change, and corporate corruption, amplifying the already haunting atmosphere throughout the theater.

Upon the exit of greed, the dancers transformed into a warrior-like state, collectively pushing toward their goal of defending the land and water. Their movements represented fierce determination, tremendous struggle, and despite their passionate commitment to resistance, eventually defeat. While lying on the stage, broken and depleted, the defenders became enveloped by water’s gentle and welcome return. Her healing and nurturing elements awakened them subtly, as they were illuminated by the joining of the star sisters, above them.

As the elder made a humble, yet equally majestic return to the stage, the star sisters separated, aerialist Andrea Rose Bear King taking to the sky, and Hoop Dancer Talavai Denipah-Cook, taking to the earth. The two complimented each other simultaneously in breathtaking movement to an enchanting Lakota prayer song, honoring the sacred hoop.

As if the previous experience was not moving enough, touching yet commanding Indigenous vocals then flooded the theater, as the stage became illuminated by striking multi-media images of Rulan, moving through fields of mature corn stalks. A soft spotlight gradually fell upon the dancers, who were surrounding Rulan, as she moved graciously within a gigantic, flowing green dress, crafted from the material of a parachute, with a crown of sunflowers decorating her head. They moved as though they were part of her, wrapping themselves in her essence of life, and celebrating the return of the natural, glorious cycles of our Earth. This scene represented a rejuvenation of the interrelationship between the earth, sun, moon, and water, who collaborate to sustain sacred systems of Indigenous food production, such as the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
The final scene of the production offered a balance of this restoration, in the form of one woman, danced by farming company member Lupita Salazaar, who returned to the land, sitting alone, singing softly to herself. The dancers moved toward her, creating rhythm with their bodies and mouths. She disseminated seeds to them, one at a time, with gentle intention, as they carried them toward the water with tender care, close to the audience.

The elder appeared once again, a culminating presence that led the cast into the Round Dance, a visual and physical spiral of energy, intended to send this newly-found balance into the world, to be adopted and practiced for generations to come.

Dancing Earth is a collective who believe in the power of movement as a vehicle for limitless expression, an experience and mission that continually move and inspire their audiences to help our world become a better place.

Attending their performances is a personal journey, one that we cannot “scroll away” from, when we begin to feel “uncomfortable” or “inconvenienced” by such raw and honest perceptions of our global society and humanity's impact on the planet. These artists move together in a form of unity that is rooted in love; love for the ancestors, love for planet, love for humanity and love for each other.

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Photo © & courtesy of Paulo Tavares

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