Review: Dancing Earth Santa Fe,
In the 1980’s PBS “Dancing” series, dance was introduced through three lenses - that of ritual dance, theatrical dance and social dance. As it turns out dance is not so clearly pigeon holed. Rulan Tangen’s work. ” …SEEDS: REGENERATION…” performed by her company Dancing Earth, has its roots in both modern dance, Graham-like in moments, and dance as ritual rooted in indigenous traditions. It is at once a teaching story and a tone poem in movement. It is a universal story of us, of where we come from, of our place in the web of living things and our responsibility as sentient beings to care for our home and to maintain balance. It is also a clear warning about hubris, inattention and lack of reflection and where that is currently leading us. As a visual tone poem, images echo events, remembrances and spiritual teachings against a soundscape of spoken word in different languages, singing, and varied musical selections. Dancers morph and interconnect against an ever-changing projected backdrop of the desert Southwest.
It begins as ritual - a culture bearer invokes the four directions, clearing the space for what is about to occur. The first projected images are clearly holy places for the peoples who have called this their home, and reiterate for the rest of us the sacred and timeless nature of this place that offers us a quantum perspective of universes, both macro and micro.
Against a projected image of fractal branching that could equally be blood vessels, a desert viewed from space, or a closeup of sandstone etched by water rivulets, dancers move inside stretch material as three dimensional landscapes, out of which they are born. Red cords connect them to the earth, to each other, to life. Themes of planting, germination, rootedness, and the gift of water, weave through the piece as the dancers become the living land, the seeds, the plants, the animals, all the living things that nurture and sustain the circle of human community.
A sense of urgency arises as a nightmarish figure, crane-like with an elaborate feather headdress, decorated with trash and wearing a gas mask prances in, preening and striding across the stage. Powerfully danced by Esmé Vaandrager, the creature projects a sense of reckless ownership as she pushes past the dancers polluting and poisoning without conscience. She is a paean to the results of colonization, the very worst of ourselves, a mirror into which we must look with horror.
Throughout the piece, an archetypal figure appears. Beautifully danced by Ms. Tangen, she is alternately mother, spirit, medicine woman, witness, healer, and seer. Simplicity of movement is one of the most difficult things to achieve in dance. Ms. Tangen is a master of gesture pared down to essentials and full of depth of meaning and emotion.
Company dancers are intensely focused and possess a most welcome lack of self-consciousness or awareness of themselves performing, and yet their presence draws us in. There is a clear company feel to their work that only comes with time spent together and unity of vision. Ms. Tangen has an ability to arrange dancers in space, contrasting single figures against group, while duets, trios and quartets organize effortlessly. She contrasts stillness and economy of movement with constant motion, all with a sense of spatial integrity.
There are many images that stay with this observer; dancers organically morphing into and out of Pilobolus-like etched shapes, the use of fabric to suggest landscapes, earth, and water. There were images of reverence and humility through simple gestures: cupping hands to drink water or caressing the surface of the earth with an open palm. These were moments of aching human vulnerability as the dancers become a conscious community. Although each company member held individual moments of powerful statement, Deollo Johnson’s extended aerial solo being one, we are always aware that these moments are never about the individual dancers so much as what is being expressed or channeled. Thus it is a ritual with each dancer mindful always of the larger purpose and that they dance in service of a whole greater than its parts. We, as audience are also part of the ritual as we are all part of the story. The question is put to us - where do we go from here?
By KK Báez, cofounder - MoveWest