«We wanted to not just do a show, but a meaningful collaboration.», says director and choreographer of Dancing Earth, Rulan Tangen, about their visit at this summer’s Riddu Riđđu. As the summer draws to a close, we publish this conversation between Tangen and Ragnhild Freng Dale, Riddu’s festival blogger this year.
Dancing Earth is an indigenous dance company based in the United States, who work to revitalize culture and society through indigenous dance. They are at Riddu Riđđu to create a piece of work in collaboration with Sámi artists and dancers, and have spent several days together to prepare for a performance during Riddu, as well as to exchange work, culture and shared experiences of being indigenous.
I catch their director and choreographer, Rulan Tangen, at breakfast on Thursday morning during the festival. The conversation touches on many themes, from the depth of the work and the rootedness of dance and indigenous knowledge, to our shared commitment as human beings on this planet to face climate change and the colonial practices that block a respect for earth, planet, water and proper stewardship for future generations.
Tangen tells me that what is so unique about Dancing Earth is the intertribal character of their work. They represent different tribes from North America, and also collaborate with other indigenous peoples across the world and make dance on their own terms.
– We bring indigenous people into every aspect of the production. This brings their world views into what we are making, not just indigenous bodies to the stage to play out non-indigenous stories. The dancers bring their own ancestral memories and futurism in what they do – a rooted way of looking at the future.
Dancing Earth have built a dance practice and a sharing of stories through the dance for several years, and been awarded multiple times across the world. Their work is rooted in indigenous ways of using resources – recycling, repurposing and organic – which includes literally recycling material too, a practice they also push for when on tour in different places.
Tangen explains that the work is about stewardship of our planet, our relationship to it and ecology. She has seen it grow in what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how it has impacted the land in a positive way.
– Our elders came to me with themes and stories they felt were important for us to share through our dance, offering us their knowledge of how to live with climate change in our time.
The dancers are all cultural women and community workers, working for the health of their communities. One of them is also a farmer in her home community. Tangen calls all of them cultural artist ambassadors to capture the breadth of the work they do.
There is a real political edge and urgency to these issues. At the climate summit in Paris in December 2015, COP21, indigenous rights were taken out of the document – a betrayal to indigenous communities across the world according to the indigenous delegates and their allies present at the negotiations. One of the Sámi performers, Sarakka Gaup, was part of the demonstrations during the climate negotiations, and the events naturally connect with their collaboration at Riddu.
– The work we’re doing together wanted to be born, says Tangen about this connection. -We wanted to not just do a show, but a meaningful collaboration.
Tangen praises all her Sámi collaborators who have been part of the exchange and performance. For a Sámi audience, she thinks the use of a different tribal body and different tribal languages in the performance – as well as Sámi – might be interesting to experience. One of the dancers is a Navajo who has done impressive work to revitalize the language, including a role in the Navajo version of the Disney hit Finding Nemo.
Tangen emphasizes how indigenous peoples have a deep understanding of how to be connected, which is crucial to understand how we live in the world and how to be on the land in sustainable ways. The connectedness across continents, through social media and in physical meetings is equally important.
– The international exchange here at Riddu Riđđu is important to build confidence and encouragement to our peoples. Whether people work in politics or to raise their family in traditional ways, it is important for them to not feel isolated, because there are so many more of us out there. By sharing stories, restoring and restory-ing, we bring the water, land and seeds to life.