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CREATING DABKE: An interview with Zvi Gotheiner

CREATING DABKE: An interview with Zvi Gotheiner

Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner explores the choreography of DABKE and his relationship with RDT.

DABKE runs April 6-8, 2017 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. This video will open the show. Learn more and get tickets here

ABOUT ZVI GOTHEINER

ZVI GOTHEINER was born and raised in a kibbutz in northern Israel. Zvi began his artistic career as a gifted violinist with the Young Kibbutzim Orchestra, where he attained the rank of soloist and Concertmaster at age 15. He began dancing at 17, and soon after, formed his first performance group. Zvi arrived in New York in 1978 on a dance scholarship from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and danced with the Joyce Trisler Dance Company and Feld Ballets/NY in the US, and with Bat-Sheva Dance Company in Israel. After directing Tamar Ramle and the Jerusalem Tamar Dance Companies in Israel and the Israeli Chamber Dance Company in New York, he founded ZviDance. The Company’s performances have received critical acclaim in New York City at the Joyce Theater, Dance Theater Workshop, the Kitchen, the Angel Orensanz Foundation, the Duke on 42nd Street, Joyce Soho, the Fiorello Festival, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, and Central Park’s SummerStage, as well as a variety of experimental venues. Zvi is a recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts Choreography fellowships and The National Arts Club Weiselberg Award. He has received commissions from Zurich Tanz Theater, Utah’s Repertory Dance Theater, Colloquium Contemporary Dance Exchange, the American Dance Festival, and the Joyce Theater’s Altogether Different series, Diversion The Dance Company of Wales and Groundworks in Cleveland.

 

RDT is working with Zvi on an upcoming project celebrating the Bears Ears National Monument. Learn more here>>

America’s National Dance

America’s National Dance

Many countries have a national dance. The Polish have the polka, the Catalans have the Sardana, the Greeks have the Kalamatianos dance. Jordan and much of the Arab world refer to their ritual line dance as the dabke, while the Chinese are perhaps best known for the dragon and lion dances which stem from the Han Dynasty.

But what is the national dance of America, and what makes it distinctly American?

There is a “new world” dance and that dance was created by indigenous peoples of America. Today Native American tribes throughout the country continue to preserve their cuisine, their stories, their language, and their dances. There is a continuous cultural thread that extends back hundreds of years, and that thread is dance, inextricably connected to and animated by the land, or Mother Earth.

Here in the arid Southwest, Native American lands and their life-giving waters have recently captured the imaginations and the hopes of many of us with the recent proclamation by President Barack Obama last year of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. A new book Edge of Morning (Torrey House Press, 2017) is both the back story of this remarkable region of 1.3 million square miles as well as a meditation on why Bears Ears should be preserved in perpetuity.

In one word, the reason why is this: the land is sacred.

Jacqueline Keeler (Dine/Dakota), Editor of “Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears”

Edited by Jacqueline Keeler (Dine/Dakota), Edge of Morning is subtitled “Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears,” and the collection is a hearty mix of essay, interview and poetry by representatives from various tribes–from Hopi to Dine (Navajo) and from Ute to Muscogee.

Despite the complexity of the swarming issues around public land policies and broken Indian treaties, there is a single, shining thesis in Edge of Morning: that America’s indigenous populations inhabit a spiritual culture rooted in land and that, in the face of relentless encroachments, tribes are prepared to enact what’s called their “bio-cultural sovereignty” as nations within the United States. Bears Ears is emblematic of that ongoing enactment. And it is the personal narratives in this book, often teased out through an interview by Keeler, that gives these stories emotional heft.

Edge of Morning is a resource to Repertory Dance Theatre and guest choreographer Zvi Gotheiner who will be arriving in Utah with his ZviDance Company May 7, 2017 to seek inspiration for a new commission in celebration of Bears Ears: Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters. It’s a celebration of an unprecedented coming-together of five tribes to advocate for a land that is held to be sacred by Native Americans. The designation was no small task, as tribes have not always seen eye-to-eye on how best to preserve their lands or their culture. But the Inter-tribal coalition did coalesce around a monument that today stands as a testament to the healing of divisions.

Jonah Yellowman (Dine), spiritual advisor to Utah Dine Bikeyah

Some of the individuals whose voices are heard in Edge of Morning will be participating in the RDT / ZviDance project through a partnership with Utah Dine Bikeyah (UDB) which has been a major player in this remarkable proclamation by the president late last year. One of these presenters is Jonah Yellowman (Dine), a spiritual advisor to UDB who is interviewed by the book’s editor in the Edge of Morning’s opening chapter. Yellowman introduces the book’s recurring theme: there is little if any distinction made by Native peoples between the breath they draw and the rocks and plants and animals, the sky, the soil and the mountains with which they interact. Everything is interrelated, and everything has a spirit to it.

Ritual movement, or dance, whether it’s social or ceremonial, is arguably the nexus for the spiritual and cultural connections Native Americans have to each other and to Mother Earth, and Edge of Morning makes the indelible point that this public land is sacred to all of us. What could be more inclusive, literally, than a Native American circle dance? What could be more powerful than a communal ritual of movement? And, finally, what could be more healing?

This is the final Native objective, it would seem, of preserving Bears Ears and other territories sacred to tribes: the land will heal us if we honor and protect it. On May 11th, as part of its week-long excursion through the Bears Ears National Monument to prepare for developing a new concert dance, RDT and New York City’s ZviDance will be the special guests of representatives from the five-tribe coalition that for the past ten years has advocated for the monument.

At the gathering there will be the sharing of stories, the sharing of traditional foods, and of course, dancing. The evening, titled “Healing through Motion” will celebrate not only the establishment of Bears Ears, but the co-management of the monument by the tribes and the promise of healing that the monument represents.

Four other public encounters with Native American presenters and scholars will occur beginning May 7th. At these free events, curated by RDT and UDB, the story is all the same: this is sacred land not only to Native tribes, but to all of us.

Contemporary movement language inspired by the Bears Ears will never be America’s national dance as is the Native American circle dance. But a book like Edge of Morning and a dance like Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters may be important ways of honoring and illuminating our collective spiritual lives, of starting a conversation with one another that may well prove to have national importance.

The Ghost Dance originated among the Paiute Indians in the Great Basin around 1870. However, the tide of the movement came in 1889 with a Paiute shaman Wovoka (Jack Wilson). Wovoka had a vision during a sun eclipse in 1889.

From the Proposal Overview (Bears Ears InterTribal Coalition):

The Bears Ears land is a unique cultural place where we visit and practice our traditional religions for the purpose of attaining or resuming health for ourselves, human communities, and our natural world as an interconnected and inextricable whole.

When we speak about health, we are not only talking about an individual, we are talking about one’s health in relation to others around us and that of the land. We are talking about healing.

Our relationship and visits to Bears Ears are essential for this process. Ruining the integrity of these lands forever compromises our ability to heal. The traditional knowledge related to Bears Ears is important and irreplaceable in itself. The continuity of indigenous traditional medicine is in peril, as long as land like the Bears Ears are not protected.

David Pace is RDT’s Development Director. You can subscribe to RDT’s blog EMBARK to learn more about this unfolding project. 

Utah Dine Bikeyah & RDT: The Ethic of a Sacred Land

Utah Dine Bikeyah & RDT: The Ethic of a Sacred Land

Repertory Dance Theatre is the only dance company to receive a grant from the (currently) embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and at the time (2011) the Company took some hard hits from Utah’s congressional delegation, two of whom argued that, especially during a recession, funding from the Federal Government to a modern dance company–even one as celebrated as the country’s premier repertory dance company–was an example of government waste.

Long before that tempest in a teapot, RDT had dedicated itself to its Sense of Place Initiative, commissioning works that embody, celebrate and examine our human connection to the land which we all rely on and the ethic to find sustainable means to protect it. Water and land are critical issues here in America’s Mountain and Southwest regions, sparking a resurgent “sagebrush rebellion” of late with locals and, especially, politicians angling to wrest control of public lands from the Feds.

As part of a years-long association with New York City-based Zvi Gotheiner, RDT is again commissioning a new work through an ambitious project that involves bringing Gotheiner and his company, ZviDance, to Utah to join RDT at the newly-proclaimed Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. The development of the project begins in May, and the premiere of the first of two works to emerge from the project will be in October 2017 in Salt Lake City.

But “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters,” the working title of the project,  isn’t looking for a fight.  Instead, with its partner Utah Dine Bikeyah, the new work is designed to honor and celebrate the unprecedented convergence of five American Native tribes which for 10 years have been advocating for the preservation of their sacred lands from extraction (mining) companies, development and the arguably harmful effects of ranching. Most Utahns agree with the newly-announced protections through the Antiquities Act of 1906 of the 1.35 million acres, says author and photographer Stephen Trimble in the Los Angeles Times:

“The president acted on behalf of our children and grandchildren, on behalf of the last canyon treefrogs singing in Slickhorn Gulch along the San Juan River, on behalf of the Navajo medicine man gathering herbs on the forested mesas of the Bears Ears. His action will be a boon to Utah’s rural economy.”

Where does a modern dance company fit into all of this? What can dance bring to the conversation about public lands where indigenous populations have lived for centuries but also where white settlers in the 19th Century made their homes, where, today, recreationists and tourists thrill at the sights, the hikes and the climbs (while spending money), where environmentalists see the wilderness as a kind of ballast to our over-developed cities?

RDT is operating under a collective premise that most people, in the Southwest and beyond, agree with: our lands and our waters have a sacred character to them. They are our sustenance. They literally ground us in the world of which we are only a part, and they call to a deep and abiding place within us: the notion of “home.” Bears Ears and all of our protected lands and waters epitomize this impulse to protect and preserve.

Continues Trimble,

“For the first time in conservation history, the primary advocates for this new national monument were Native American tribes. In October 2015, the Navajo, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute nations presented the Obama administration with a proposal to preserve and co-manage public lands they consider sacred. The full membership of the National Congress of American Indians supported them. Remarkably, given the history of Indian people and the United States, the government listened.”

Two commissions choreographed by Gotheiner will emerge from “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters.” One will be housed in the repertory of ZviDance in New York City, the other, close to the Bears Ears here at RDT in Salt Lake City. The project entails more, however, than just new choreography. Five public events, including 3 with Trimble, will be staged between May and October when RDT’s work premieres, 4 of those events in the state capital and one in Bluff, near the Monument.

It is the Bluff gathering on May 11, 2017  that will embody the spirit of the “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters” project. Representatives from all five tribes who formed the coalition to propel Bears Ears to monument status will assemble with RDT and ZviDance. The public is invited and the event is free. Together they will share, through word, music and dance, why this land is sacred to Native Americans,  and, in an evening titled “Healing through Motion,” will celebrate the coming together of, at times, fractious tribes to achieve a common goal. It’s a convergence of nations that possibly marks the trail for the increasingly divided country of the United States to do the same.  It’s clear from the tribes that this land is sacred to more than those in the region. It is a gift to all of us–Americans as well as  visitors from abroad.

It is our sacred lands, and our sacred waters as well.

Jonah Yellowman, spiritual adviser to Utah Dine Bikeyah, and Navajo elder from Monument Valley, reacted generously to the designation of the new Bears Ears National Monument, and in the spirit of the occasion extends his thanks and prayers not only to Mother Earth but to all people for whom these lands and waters will be preserved.

In addition to attending the concert in Utah this October, which we hope will include traditional native dances on stage with RDT, you can donate to help make the project happen.

Celebrate and honor the Bears Ears National Monument and help heal divisions among all of us through dance.

 

David G. Pace is the Director of Development at Repertory Dance Theatre.