need a little spice every now and then.
Formed in 1987, the American Indian Dance Theatre has garnered worldwide
acclaim for its interpretations of both sacred and secular American
music, dance and culture combine with modern ideas to create a performance
that spans centuries.
Geiogamah, a member of the Delaware and Kiowa tribes of Oklahoma,
is a founding member of the company. We were going to put
on a one-time show in 1987, and once we got the cast together with
the music and dances, we realized we had the basis of a touring
company. We performed that first show and then started to tour the
next year, he said.
didnt take long for that newly formed company to develop a
series of dances and start to tour. Its now-extensive repertoire
focuses on regional dances, such as ones from the Iroquois League
of the Northeast and the tribes of the Great Plains.
dancers and musicians from across the United States, its hard
to have a central base of operations for the company. Combined with
funding concerns this means the company can be flexible in creating
its work, and it also keeps the troupe diverse instead of settled
around a certain region or tribe.
troupe stays accessible to all American Indian tribes through its
mobile operations, and it represents numerous tribes through its
dancers and performers from New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin,
Oklahoma, Sas-katchewan, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Alberta and the
dancers have performed in nearly every state. They have toured Europe,
Asia, Canada and Australia, and they were even given a key to the
city of Lille, France.
Indian Dance Theatre has found a way to showcase traditional dances
in a theatrical performance without compromising the principles
of the dances.
use vocabulary from American Indian ceremonial dances as their choreographic
base and then embellish the dances with their own elements. We
combine different styles weve discovered to create something
new and to enhance the traditional performance, Geiogamah
they interpret ceremonial dances, American Indian Dance Theatre
works closely with those tribes. The troupe asks permission from
the tribe, and then works with tribal teachers to ensure the sanctity
of the performance. Since many tribes have strong traditional values,
the company knows that any experimentation must be carefully done.
dont want to dishonor the strength of the traditions by misinterpretations,
but its important to keep that creative flow in our minds
when we work, Geiogamah said. Theres a special
inheritance that we receive from these histories, and we have a
responsibility to be the vehicles that respectfully carry it forward.
Indian Dance Theatres second television special, Dances
for the New Generations, is a documentary about the process
the company goes through from permission to performance. It was
also the first American Indian production to receive a nomination
for a Primetime Emmy Award.
the piece they will stage at the Ordway, translates to come
celebrate the dance in the Algonquin language. This fusion
of traditional dance and contemporary ideas tells a tale of finding
individual and community identities and values. Its a classic
story of the hunt to discover the true spirit within a person that
both American Indian and non-American Indian audiences can relate
includes a short work by modern-dance choreographer Laura Dean,
who has also been commissioned by the New York City Ballet and the
quartet, entitled New Dance, provides a period of more
minimalistic choreography for the entire piece. Many other dances
have more spectacular costumes and choreography, and Deans
piece provides a contrast to their intricacies.
choreography isnt the only non-traditional aspect of the dance.
Ceremonial instruments share the air with saxophones and electric
music is performed live on stage, but the group also incorporates
modern music along with its modern choreography. We enjoy
working with contemporary music, Geiogamah said, but
we use recorded music as well since we cant bring a rock band
or a full concert orchestra along with us on our tours.
troupe spends a lot of time on tour, but it also stays focused on
the formation of new dances. The company has a full-length piece
in the works that uses the music of contemporary American Indian
musician Jim Pepper, who blended American Indian music with jazz
and added a saxophone.
the large traditional presence in the lives of many American Indians,
Geiogamah and his company believe the culture must evolve and change
to keep up with the other changes in life. Its not an easy
goal to reach.
is the director of American Indian studies at UCLA and also teaches
American Indian theater. As a teacher, he realizes the significance
of preserving the American Indian culture for future generations.
The troupe also works with schools and provides educational programs.
The heritage received from a tribal past is as significant
today as it was to the people 50, 100 or 200 years ago, Geiogamah
said. The people need to know and have access to the spirituality
of the ceremonial events.
1990, the American Indian Dance Theatre was the first all-Indian
group to earn a Grammy nomination. Also that year, its first PBS
show, Dance in America: Finding the Circle, premiered
on Great Performances.
Indian Dance Theatre has a place within the international world
of dance and in American Indian communities. The company adds a
little theatricality to the dances, but it certainly stays true
to the spirit within.