It is with great honor that we are able to feature Rulan Tangen, the director of Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations for our At The crossroads Piece. It is always our hope to share our love of Spirit and the true energy behind what folks are doing out in the world in our interviews. Rulan and her company bring forward passion and wisdom of indigenous culture, respect for our Earth and all the elements, and a keen recognition of relationship between us and Spirit. The grandest stories of our time are sung through the rich speech of dance this beautiful group brings to us all!
(Photo by Heny Weinstein from solo explorations around the Walking At The Edge of Water theme)
Q. Rulan, you’re clearly extraordinarily talented as an artist and a dancer. Elegance, beauty and depth seem to surround you and your dance company. When I look at your dancing, it has the feeling of prayer being danced. It feels as if you’re dancing your culture. What inspired you to take your dance in this direction?
A. Thank you for inviting me to share some reflections on my art practice of Indigenous contemporary dance – a field that is emerging yet ancient and evolving with each step as we create it. You mentioned that in my dancing you saw reflections of spirituality and of culture and you asked about sources of inspiration. In the first half of my life I trained formally to become a professional dancer in the forms of ballet, modern, powwow and performed across USA, Canada and Europe in companies, productions; including opera and circus, and television/film. This was my fierce passion into which I willed myself with voracious focus and determination. The very refined style of powwow dance that I was a part of in the traditional circle was to me the elemental pulse of the universe.
But I was aware of these Native cultural worldviews that brought different perspective to every aspect of life – and this diversity of philosophy and aesthetics were what I longed to embody in very dynamic physical form. I hoped to do so as a dancer, interpreting a director’s vision, but instead I became a creator – opening the circle for other younger performers. Bringing to life the vital reality of dreaming. So, it’s the rich diversity of Indigenous cultures that was the original inspiration.
(Photo by Paulo Tavares from OF BODIES OF ELEMENTS) The role of choreographer and teacher, and soon after founding artistic director of the company of DANCING EARTH, was made clear as my life’s purpose during a period of severe life and death challenges. This illness I now see as a metaphoric initiation, which is consistent with Indigenous leadership principles. These principles are not only for leaders but are the responsibility for every human: to be humble and respectful, generous and compassionate, creative and resourceful, and courageous. After this illness I was too physically weak to barely even walk, but my powers of intuition and dreaming were at their most enhanced. It was just about at this time that I met the young multidisciplinary artists who were to become the first ensemble that became DANCING EARTH, soon joined by some of my early students in New Mexico and California who were coming of age and ready to become professional cultural artists.
Like the shifting lights of a constellation, they now travel the world as artists and educators, including the magnificent multidisciplinary talents of Quetzal Guerrero – violinist /capoeirista, Thosh Collins – photographer/traditional singer, Alejandro Meraz – actor/filmmaker/dancer/martial artist, Sarracina Littlebird – Columbia educated environmental biology and dance major, Jessica Marisol Allen – former lead of the touring show Blast/ assistant producer and now the mother of baby Rulan Harjo. These artists have unimagined credentials, and bring to the work technical skill, sociopolitical consciousness, cultural legacy and commitment to high standards that have inspired the subsequent artists on the company roster, as well as thousands of Native youth on our nation-wide workshops and performances. They inspired me towards exploration of Indigenous leadership in dance –making in that I work collaboratively with them, rather than imposing a format.
(Photo by Paulo Tavares from OF BODIES OF ELEMENTS)
As a director, I make decisions to help us all realize the highest artistic potential, and I bring to the creative process a thematic map that is usually influenced by cultural advisors, and by dream-visioning, but it is the artists who help shape the journey. Together we have learned that there are no mistakes. I make suggestions and the intelligence of their kinetic knowledge and ‘blood memory’ ( N Scott Momaday) reveal motions that speak with a special spirit language that is the communication, with each other, with witnesses, and with the intangible world of spirit.
(Ayaandagon Garden, Art Gallery of Peterborough, Canada, Rehearsal Ode’Min Geezis Festival, Trent University’s Indigenous performance Initiative) For 2012, after 7 years of cultural investigation as prompted by Native grandmothers, we are taking on a cycle of work dedicated to restoring respect for the sacredness of water, and the feminine. The relevance of this theme is evidenced by invitations from many tribal people across the globe, to share their stories about this, and to invite us to share our dance renderings of what will be a shimmering collage of inter-tribal water perspectives in motion. The inspiration for this is the stark environmental realities that drive the need for even our contemporary dances to serve in the traditional manner as rituals for transformation – to dance into life the dreams for positive change for the people, for the planet, and for the harmony of the relationship between the two.
If you saw spirituality and culture in the work, I believe it was the commitment to reflect Indigenous diversity, with inherent mystic animism of relation to all other life forms, as danced into spiraling life. One of the last expressions of true magic – the ephemereality of temporal arts remind us that the art of life can’t be owned or contained or held, it can only be experienced for each moment.
Q. That’s beautiful, Rulan.. Thank you so much for sharing your journey, for your work, for the vision that flows through you and for your commitment. I imagine many people will be interested to know more about your sacred work with water. This feels so important..
Rulan Tangen’s bio: Rulan Tangen’s lifelong dance journey centers around the founding, in 2004, of DANCING EARTH CREATIONS (DEC), the nation’s foremost indigenous contemporary dance ensemble. Surviving cancer to discover her leadership purpose, Tangen collected two decades of experience in professional ballet, modern dance, theater, and opera, as well as powwow, circus, film, and television projects, only to peel away these forms to reveal the instinctive movement of ancestral blood memory. She now dances to revitalize cultural practices, and to explore the de-colonization of the theater and performing arts. As Director of DEC, Tangen recruits and cultivates a new generation of emerging Native multi-disciplinary dancers. Creating from the indigenous principle of collaboration rather than hierarchy, DANCING EARTH CREATIONS’ organic, intertribal process translates as an expression of diversity and identity. Community engagement is critical to DEC, with projects developed specifically to interact with public schools, inter-generational tribal groups, juvenile detention centers, farmers, and students of the environment, sustainability, social work, and theater. Rulan’s work integrates realms of feminine leadership, artistic rigor, experiential education, and inter-cultural and socio-environmental consciousness. Rooted in cultural respect, her vision for dance is at the avant-garde, experimental front of Native arts and expression in the USA, and is now being understood and recognized through awards, medals, academic invitations, and cultural honors.
(Photo of Rulan Tangen by Heny Weinstein from solo explorations around the Walking At The Edge of Water theme)