By David Pace
Earlier this year Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) and Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB) sat across from each other trying to figure out if together they could offer to be some kind of steadying order to the growing imbroglio of the recently announced Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. What does concert dance have to do with preserving federal lands considered sacred by Native Americans?
It turns out quite a lot. At the meeting Navajo (Diné) representatives from the tribal coalition that had midwifed the Monument, including Willie Grey Eyes, Jonah Yellowman, and Mary Benally, related how to them the Bear Ears not only represented the sacred lands of 5 tribes, but also the healing between those tribes after hundreds of years of mutual suspicion and mistrust. Whatever artistic work issued from our collaboration would be motivated by the notion of how the land, and in this case the preservation of the land, can heal divisions.
This quickly became the framing device for the development of a new RDT work to be choreographed by New York-based Zvi Gotheiner with a commissioned score by Scott Killian and premiered in Salt Lake City Oct. 5-7, 2017. It also quickly turned into an actual public gathering of the two professional modern dance companies which are scheduled to travel to Bears Ears for a week in May with representatives from the coalition.
As part of its week-long tour of the new Bears Ears, to seek inspiration for a dance tentatively titled “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters,” RDT and ZviDance dancers will be the guests of UDB May 11th at the Bluff Community Center to celebrate at an event titled “Healing in Motion” the unprecedented coming-together of the tribal coalition.
The gathering will include dancers, musicians and artists, along with tribal leaders and scholars who will share traditional food, stories and the history of the region. To them the Monument, which will be co-managed by the tribes, is a healing land that is sacred not only to the Navajo (Diné), Zuni, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Hopi tribes, but to many white settlers in the region, outdoor recreationists, tourists and environmentalists.
The event will feature several Native American dance groups from local schools in San Juan District, and, among the other presenters, artist Alisha Anderson who is currently doing a landscape project in the area. The evening will also include an improvisational performance by the two dance companies, led by the Israeli-born Gotheiner who grew up on a kibbutz and knows something about contested lands animated by politics, religion and ethnic identity.
So what does concert dance have to do with the sacred lands of the Bears Ears? The answer is movement: the ancient circle dance of Native Americans, arguably our country’s national dance—our polka, our sardana, our dabke or kalamatianos–paired with the much shorter but decidedly vibrant legacy of dance theater has great potential. Not only will a new theater work be created, but Gotheiner and RDT hope that during the project’s development–from the dancers’ visit to the Monument, to rehearsal in the studio–a new ritual will emerge through dance that will illuminate a collective land and water ethic. Perhaps that ethic will speak to a shared aspiration of discovering what’s sacred to all of us, something national in scope.
HEALING THROUGH MOTION: A Celebration of the Sacred Lands of the Bears Ears (One of Five Public Events Related to the RDT Commission)
When: May 11, 2017, 4-8 pm
Where: Community Center, Bluff Utah
Admission: Open to the public
Tribal Leaders Speak: background, history of the Monument
Native Dancers: school children
6:30 pm Traditional Native American Dinner (donations accepted)
Story-sharing and traditional Native music
RDT/ ZviDance Improvisational Performance
Special Guests: Linda C. Smith (RDT), Zvi Gotheiner (ZviDance), Alicia Andersen,
The Board and friends of Utah Dine Bikeyah
#DanceWithBearsEars is a 45-day crowdfunding campaign, beginning May 7, to help off-set some of the costs of this ambitious project.
You can learn more about this unfolding project, other public events involving Native presenters as well as the premiere of Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters both in Utah and New York City here: http://rdtutah.org/bearsears
To see a video promotional of the RDT Stand with Bears Ears project, go here.
To learn more about Repertory Dance Theatre, click here.
David G. Pace is the Director of Development at Salt Lake City-based Repertory Dance Theatre, currently completing its 51st Season as America’s premier repertory dance company. A fiction and creative nonfiction writer and journalist, he is also the literary editor of 15 Bytes, Utah’s Arts Magazine, and the author of the novel Dream House on Golan Drive. His work is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming (August, 2017) Moth & Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death, an anthology of stories published by Signature Books.