DASSDance: Protecting Indigenous People of the Amazon through Dance

 

Photo courtesy of DASSDance

Imagine the only way of life you’ve ever known was being taken away from you so that someone else could make a profit. Fortunately, most Seattleites will never have to know what that’s like. For the Awa Tribe in the Amazon Rainforest, this threat is a daily reality. The Awa, some of whom are still “uncontacted people,” have had 30 percent of their virgin land wiped out due to illegal logging. While the Brazilian military has taken action against the destruction, the war is far from over. As intruders continue to invoke violence, destroy homes, and scare away game, the Awa have earned a reputation as “the most endangered tribe on Earth.”

DASSDance, a bi-coastal company working in Seattle and New York City, aims to be a small part of the solution. SeattleDances sat down with Artistic Director, Daniel Wilkins, who is bringing attention to this crisis with his newest production, Tale of Ten Green at Washington Hall. The show opens this Friday, September 20, with a gala where 50 percent of proceeds will be donated to Survival International, an organization helping the Awa’s cause. The performances of Tale of Ten Green will take place at 8 PM this Friday and Saturday evening.

Q. Who are the Awa people? How did you hear about them?
A. The Awa of the eastern Amazon are the last nomadic tribe in Brazil. Approximately 100 out of 350 are still uncontacted, which means they have little-to-no communication and interaction with modern civilization. These people have never seen an iPod or picked up a telephone. The biggest challenge of this project was gathering information about their day-to-day lives, traditions, celebrations, etc.

Q. Tell us about Survival International, the organization you will be donating funds to in order to help the Awa’s cause.
A. Survival International is a global organization that defends tribal peoples around the globe. Each tribe has a unique circumstance, be it violence against their people or commercial interests taking land and resources that are not rightfully theirs. Tribal people need an advocate to have their voice heard. Survival International raises funds to advocate on their behalf—petitioning government officials and corporations and making them accountable. On a good day, they change the course of indigenous tribes, oftentimes saving lives and land.

I came across Survival International when I was researching the Awa tribe, some of whom are part of the newly-found uncontacted people in the Amazon in Brazil who have received a lot of news coverage recently. I reached out to Survival International and discussed my project. Leila Batmanghelidj working out of the San Francisco office thought what we were doing was great to raise awareness in a creative way and would work well with their “Get Creative for the Awa” campaign. Fifty percent of our Awa Gala proceeds go directly to Survival International’s efforts. I would love to make that check as impactful as possible. I hope we inspire dance lovers who have never seen DASSdance to come out and support this great cause. (The gala includes cocktails, dinner, and the performance all for $50).

Q. What is “Ten Green”? And what do you hope to accomplish with Tale of Ten Green?
A. Ten Green is the people in our tribe: six dancers, as well as the creative team of three. The audience is the important 10th. It was important for me to include the audience because, in the tribe’s struggle, it has been outside contributors (Survival International and other advocates who contribute funds and/or voices) who have made a difference. With this show I hope to remind the audience of what lies beyond their everyday lives. There are people that have everything they need from their land; they deserve our respect and our voices that could help protect them.

Q. Tell us about your dancers and what they bring to the performance.
A. DASSdancers are varied in their strengths, each bringing a own unique style to the performance. They have ability and desire to push themselves to their outer limits as artists and athletes. They are strong people that engage together for a common purpose. I see them sharing their own story through a work where the inspiration comes from a great distance.

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Photo courtesy of DASSDance

Q. DASSdance presents “controversial, potent, high risk productions.” What do these words mean to you, and why is making this kind of work important?
A. Issues that include death or suffering are, by nature, potent; we intentionally approach it as such. A topic that could be political or that takes people out of their comfort zone can be called controversial. Bringing issues to light such as the plight of the Awa, water pollution with my work Fighting Water or poverty with Poor Man’s Boogie is important to me; I think an artist should reflect what is happening. It’s interesting to go to a show that provokes one to think, not just of the beauty of dance, but also, to learn about an important issue that affects our world. The people who we contribute to, partner with, and give a voice to, are individuals at high-risk. To name a few, we have represented the homeless through Real Change, at-risk New York City teens through University Settlement and students struggling with literacy through Read Across America.

Q. How do you plan to transform Washington Hall into “a lush forest canopy”?
A. I can’t wait for people to see our installation at Washington Hall. Furney’s Nursery has generously donated a variety of plants and trees that will transform Washington Hall into a unique, green, theater experience. We are also constructing tribal huts and will project imagery on the walls.

Q. Is there a potential danger one runs into by western dancers trying to “recreate” tribal life, even if the goal is for greater respect of indigenous peoples?
A. I am prefacing the work in the program, as well as my speech before the show, to not venture into this as a literal description of tribal life. It would be impossible to get it perfect. I have taken the incredible dancers I am working with and we have taken our own journey with this inspiration.

Q. Tell us about your choreographic inspiration and process for this work.
A. I challenged myself with this work to create “simply,” to cultivate ideas slowly such as you would be able to do in the privacy of the forest. Simple themes and movements drawn from everyday tasks, as well as the stories I have learned about through articles and videos. One of the main conflicts in Tale of Ten Green—a girl getting shot when roaming outside her camp— was inspired by a real story. There is also testimony from the Awa and other indigenous Brazilian people recorded by Survival International that is part of our score and inspires the story line. I have really enjoyed this process because it has reminded me about being quiet, paying attention to nature and to communication with each other. In our concrete jungle, we are easily detached and distracted from what is truly important.

Q. Sometimes causes such as the Awa’s seem overwhelming. We want to help, but we don’t know how. What can a single Seattleite do to be a part of the solution?
A. It’s not about big impacts, its about a chain reaction of little ones. There are many ways to help the Awa without spending a dime – go to survivalinternational.org and sign a petition or get involved in your own way. The Earth is a beautiful place and the people who are communicating with it at its most intimate level are in danger—help us help the Awa!

DASSdance will perform Tale of Ten Green at 8 PM on Friday, September 20, and Saturday, September 21, at Washington Hall. The Awa Gala is $50 (half of which is donated to Survival International), and starts at 7 PM on Friday. The price of the ticket includes cocktails, the performance, and a post-show dinner with the dancers. Tickets to the show only are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased tickets at www.dassdance.org. For more information about Survival International see www.survivalinternational.org.