Of Bodies of Elements Oct. 1 and 2

Rulan Tangen and Dancing Earth launch Edison Ovations and ovations for young people series

Dancing Earth, the nation’s premier indigenous contemporary dance ensemble, will launch the Edison Ovations and ovations for young people series Oct. 1 and 2. Photograph by Kate Russell Photography. Download hi-res image.

In the beginning, people came from the sky, descending to the earth that would thereafter sustain them.

It’s a theme found in the “constellation” creation myths of the Iroquoian, Mayan, Algonquin and other First Nation peoples. It is also a theme reinforced by modern science. Carbon, the basic element for all life on earth, is only formed in the heart of a star.

In October, the Edison at Washington University will launch its 2010-11 Ovations Series with Of Bodies of Elements, a new evening-length concert by Dancing Earth, the premier indigenous contemporary dance ensemble working today.

Led by choreographer Rulan Tangen, this acclaimed troupe is poised at the intersection of ritual, culture and ecology, employing Native American traditions and perspectives to explore contemporary — particularly environmental — issues and concerns.

Performances, which are co-sponsored by the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at WUSTL’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2.

Tickets are $35; $30 seniors; $25 for Washington University faculty and staff; and $20 for students and children.

In addition, at 11 a.m. Saturday, the company will present a special all-ages matinee, titled Elements of Dancing Earth, as part of the ovations for young people series. Tickets are $12.

Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or e-mail edison@wustl.edu.

Of Bodies of Elements

Of Bodies of Elements opens with a suite of dances illustrating constellation creation myths as well as the native belief that all life forms are in some way related.

Elegantly summarized by the Lakota prayer “Mitakuye Oyasin” — an expression of harmony with nature that literally translates as “all of my relations” — this belief also finds a corollary in modern science, which has shown that many strands of DNA are shared by both humans and animals.

The program continues with dances exploring native agriculture and diet, the staples of which were corn, beans and squash, also known as the “Three Sisters.”

In some regions a “Fourth Sister,” the sunflower, was planted to protect corn from being eaten by birds. In recent years, the sunflower has taken on additional resonance as the symbol of the anti-nuclear movement: its roots have a unique ability to leech heavy metals and radiation from soil and water.

Subsequent dances explore the European colonization of “Turtle Island,” a native term for the North American continent, as well as the early reservation period and the legacy of forced assimilation.

Symbolizing renewal are the whirling “Thunderstomp,” which captures the spirited energies of fire, water, wind and lightening; and the concluding “Resurging Wilderness,” which speaks to the constant change and evolution of life throughout the earth’s many ages.

Dancing Earth. Download hi-res image.

Rulan Tangen and Dancing Earth

Tangen made her professional debut at age 17 and has since performed with ballet and modern companies in New York, Santa Fe and California.

A champion powwow dancer, she has created lead roles for a number of native dance projects, including Kaha:Wi Dance Theatre in Toronto, TRIBE at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, MN; Minigoowezewin at the Banff Centre, Canada; No Home But The Heart with the DAYSTAR Company; Here On Earth for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; and the PBS-televised Music From a Painted Cave.

Dancing Earth, which Tangen founded in 2004, reflects both the cultural heritage and the contemporary identity of native peoples. The company boasts an entirely indigenous creative team of nine dancers and more than a dozen composers, costumers, filmmakers, visual artists and stage crew.

Between them, members represent the First Nations of Blackfoot, Hawaiian, Tarasco, Pueblo, Pima/Maricopa, Seneca/Cayuga Seminole/Pawnee, Yaqui, Apache, Juaneno, Coushatta, Chamorro, Metis, Cherokee, Choctaw, Shoshone, Aotearoa, Dene, Papanga, Shoshone, Tarahuamara, Lummi, Jenizaro, Naragansett, Pima and Taino.

Every aspect of production — from sets and lighting to costumes and body paint — is shaped by a commitment to environmental sustainability. For Of Bodies of Elements, set designer Lawrence Santiago included recycled materials such as industrial cardboard and red willow branches, along with solar-powered lighting.

Costumes — by Consuelo Wind and Jose Luis Moncado, in collaboration with Marama Art Design in New Zealand — are made from organic silks, vegetable dyes and recycled fabrics. Makeup and body paint are created from mineral pigments.

Since its formation, Dancing Earth has performed at international festivals, cultural centers, museums, educational institutions and reservation youth conferences across North and South America. In 2007, the company was named “One of the Top 25 To Watch” by Dance Magazine.

More recently, Dancing Earth made history as the first Indigenous contemporary dance ensemble to be awarded a prestigious National Dance Project grant. Earlier this year, the troupe received an award for Expressive Arts from the National Museum of the American Indian.

In fall 2009, Tangen served as a distinguished visiting scholar in Washington University’s Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences. There, she worked with 12 students to set a new dance inspired by St. Louis’ Cahokia Mounds. The piece was then pe
rformed as part of that year’s Washington University Dance Theatre concert.

Edison Ovations Series

Founded in 1973, the Edison Ovations Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis.

Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The Ovations season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Of Bodies of Elements was made possible by the MetLife Community Connections Fund of the National Dance Project, a program administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts. Major support for the National Dance Project is also provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Calendar Summary

WHO: Dancing Earth

WHAT: Dance concert, Of Bodies of Elements

WHEN: Ovations: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2. ovations for young people: Elements of Dancing Earth, 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2.

WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

TICKETS: Ovations: $35; $30 for seniors; $25 for WUSTL faculty and staff; $20 for students and children. ovations for young people: $12. Available through the Edison Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets

SPONSORS: Edison Ovations and ovations for young people series, and the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies