Indigenous Choreographers Residency Q&A Part I

By Lynn Lieu

Posted April 18, 2012 in Arts & Culture
Last week, the Culver Center in downtown Riverside embarked on a journey to explore the interconnections and international dimensions of indigenous dance. In “Indigenous Choreographers Residency,” a research project coordinated by Jacqueline Shea Murphy—professor in the UCR dance department an author of The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories—three choreographers (Tanya Lukin Linklater, Rulan Tangen and Jack Gray) specializing in indigenous dance from all over world came together to develop and share their current choreographic work with one another. Tomorrow, the work that these four individuals have put together comes to a head with a performance that ends this round of research. The Weekly corresponded with Shea Murphy, Lunkin Linklater, Tangen and Gray about “Indigenous Choreographers Residency” for a closer look into the project.

What is “indigenous choreography”?
Shea Murphy: “Indigenous choreography” is contemporary dance choreography rooted in distinct Indigenous locations and political contexts. It’s also a way of approaching choreographic practices, of making dances while in attuned relationship to one another and to the earth around us—to the land where we come from and where we are, to personal, tribal and ancestral knowledge, to practices of care giving and taking. The choreographers involved in this project have each brought distinctive approaches and contexts to what they are doing, but this sense of working in attuned relationship—to other beings, to land, to history, to ancestors—is core to each of their work.

Lukin Linklater: The idea of indigenous choreography really cannot be generalized. We all bring our respective identities, locales and cosmologies to the work. I deeply appreciate the specificity of what is developed as a result—specificity in terms of movement vocabulary and also the concepts that are addressed in the work. I’m so excited about the diversity of new work that is being developed acrossCanada, theU.S. andNew Zealand . . .

Tangen: As an emerging field, it’s exciting for this to be unconfined by definitions! For myself, I explore Indigenous philosophies in collaboration with inter-tribal artists in every aspect of production: music, costuming, lighting, video—as we work towards bringing a deeply cultural aesthetic to the transformative ritual of theater.

Gray: Indigenous dance is a conscious choice to embrace, uphold and uplift the principles and treasures of our peoples. The many nations that we are within each of our countries each have experienced some level of intersection with other powers/forces/entities that have threatened the intactness of our cultures. The new emergences and convergences from these subsequent fractures have redistributed traditional methodologies to varying degrees of knowing. I believe indigenous choreography is a constantly evolving partnership of philosophies and politics within new continuums of time and space.

How did this project come about?
Murphy: It’s been a dream of mine to bring together choreographers I’ve met through my research over the past 12 years (undertaken while working on my book, The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories), whose work I respond to, and who I have a sense really ought to know and work with each other!
I’ve followed Tanya Lukin Linklater’s work for over a decade, with much admiration for its beauty, clarity, and intelligence, and have published writing about it. I met Rulan through her work at the Banff Center for the Arts around 2000, and her company DANCING EARTH Indigenous Dance Creations actually had its debut in Riverside in 2004 . . . Rulan has since returned to UCR several times to give workshops and master classes for our students . . . Tanya and Rulan have known each other for years, but neither had met Jack, who I had the pleasure of getting to know three years ago, in 2009, after I received a Fulbright Senior Scholar award to travel to Aotearoa (the Māori name ofNew Zealand) for six months and learn about Māori contemporary choreography. Jack is a wonderful person, teacher, choreographer, and friend, and we have been scheming since on ways to bring him here.
Last summer, our dean Steve Cullenberg sent out a call for proposals for funding offered through the Chancellor’s Strategic Initiative funds, and I applied and received some to make this residency happen (additional funding has since been provided by the California Center for Native Nations, the Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs and a Culver Center C.A.R.L. fellowship). My hope is this initial funding and the energy and excitement generated during this residency (which has been just amazing; our students are just vibrating from the classes and workshops they’ve taken) will generate additional support to continue “Indigenous Choreographers Residencies” with these and other choreographers in the years to come.

“Indigenous Choreographers Residency” performance and talk back at Culver Center for the Arts, 3834 Main St., Riverside; (951) 827-3755; April 19, 7pm-9pm. Free.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from Shea Murphy, Lunkin Linklater, Tangen and Gray.

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