Manahatta - Indigenous Dance Forum

Dixon Place, NYC, USA

21/04/2016 - 21/04/2016

Production Details

Presented by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU

Blending interactive theater approaches with culturally immersive technologies, The Indigenous Dance Forum (IDF) is part community activation, part performance ritual, and part forum. Guided by intuition-led, process-based methodologies, IDF, the major outcome of Jack Gray‘s semester-long residency at the A/P/A Institute at NYU, implores us to find a way to create and articulate a deeper sense of connection to the place Manahatta.

Curated by Gray, the performance features a stunning cohort of guest dance artist and scholar collaborators from around the word, along with local community members, who will physically encounter the Indigenous liminality of Lenapehoking. A journey of expanded senses, this one-time only pop-up event articulates the relationality of our urban tribe and invites body, mind, and spirit into this space of shared breath and collective resonance.


Jack Gray (Ngati Porou, Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kahungunu) is an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and scholar. Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Gray first connected to his cultural roots through traditional Māori dance, Kapa Haka, and later discovered contemporary dance. In 2000, he founded the Atamira Dance Company, an all Māori contemporary dance theatre collective, which has since become one of the nation’s premiere dance companies. Gray is committed to developing Indigenous epistemologies as a crossover into mainstream practices of dance and theatre. Since 2012, he has fostered an intercultural network of communities in the United States, activating cultural awareness and promoting strategies for Indigenous empowerment. He has collaborated with Dancing Earth Creations (New Mexico), Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (Hawai‘i), University of California, Riverside, and University of California, Berkeley, among many organizations and institutions. He is the Spring 2016 Artist-in-Residence at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.

Established in 1996, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU provides a space in which research and public programs, with a focus on community and intercultural studies, are made accessible to faculty, students, and the New York community within a broad, rigorous international and comparative framework. It produces programming, publications, exhibitions, new research, and a long-running artist-in-residence program, attracting leading academics and practitioners, and oversees multiple archival collection-building initiatives. The A/P/A Institute at NYU provides a nexus for scholars, community leaders, and artists who are working on advancing scholarship in the field and bringing theory into practice.

Indigenous Activations: Emily Johnson, Keke Brown, Tohil Fidel Eduardo Brito Bernal, Mark Mauikānehoalani Lovell.

Performers: Jasmin Canuel and Bianca Hyslop (Atamira Dance Company, New Zealand), Dåkot-ta Alcantara Camacho, Christian Anayas, Tecumseh Ceaser, Marina Celander, Alison Lehuanani DeFranco, Sammay Dizon, Jeannae Flores, Dorine Hoeksema, Alec Lichtenberg, Mark Mauikānehoalani Lovell, Grace Osborne, Toni Pasion, Kaina Quenga, Marya Wethers

Panel: Beatrice Glow, Alison Lehuanani DeFranco, Mark Mauikānehoalani Lovell, Toni Pasion, Grace Osborne, Fidel Eduardo Brito Bernal, Courtney Moezzi Brown

Native Artisans Market: Nativetec, Quw’utsun’ Made. HSL Designs, Ora Gallery

Theatre , Te Reo Māori , Spoken word , Performance installation , Pacific traditional dance forms , Pasifika contemporary dance , Multi-discipline , Dance , Cultural activation ,

2 hrs

Change in motion shook-awake

Review by Alison Cole 24th May 2016

Movement is change in motion. We are constantly moving, as individuals, as communities, as a species. But our constant state of movement can blind us to the underlying change. We become spectators to our own lives, disempowered to shape our own change. At the Indigenous Dance Forum held at Dixon Place in New York City on April 21, the Asian/Pacific/American (“A/P/A”) Spring 2016 Artist in Residence, Jack Gray, co-created a vibrant space where the audience was shook-awake to move with themes of displacement, growth, and change.

The Indigenous Dance Forum was the final showcase in a series of collaborations with dancers, musicians, and performers who have joined Jack since he began his artist residency at NYU in February 2016. Like a true rangatira, Jack wove people together from across the globe, including Aotearoa, Guåhån,Moku’āina o Hawai’i, and Lenapehoking (the First Nations territory of New York). The Native American tribes represented included Haudensaunee, Matinecock, Maya, Mexika, Munsee-Delaware, Purehpecha, Quw’utsun’, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Seneca, and Yup’ik.

Throughout Jack’s residency, his community of artists incubated their ideas inspired by the premise of living in an indigenous ‘Manahatta’ – the local Lenape name for New York, combined with the spirit of tikanga Māori. The series of workshops and masterclasses included a special preview performance at Giarna Te Kanawa’s Ora Gallery on April 12. Curator and visiting tā moko artist, Taryn Beri, created a dynamic visual space with work from the Porirua, NZ-based Toi Wāhine Collective, with strong female imagery such as graffiti-inspired designs of Papatūānuku and Hine-nui-te-pō. Jack’s dancers echoed this theme by following Lenape traditions of bringing the earth of Manahatta into the sacred creative space, joined by Louise Potiki Bryant, a founding member of Atamira Dance Company. Live music and storytelling was infused into the performance by visiting taonga puoro artist Jerome Kavanagh, playing wood and bone kōauau which he carved himself, following featured performances he gave earlier that week at the New York City Lincoln Center.

This performance at Ora Gallery exemplified Jack’s constant motion of creativity, with the momentum building as the performers continued their preparations over the following two weeks leading-up to the Indigenous Dance Forum. This creative process continued until minutes before the house-doors were opened, with the audience moving through the Native Artisans Market upstairs in the foyer, before entering the theatre by joining together onstage for Indigenous Activations, making artworks, gathering plants, sharing with storytellers, and listening to musicians. With the call of the pūtātara opening the performance, the community became ‘Manahatta’.

Every facet of Jack’s work exemplified his strength and mana as a cultural ambassador, with Aotearoa’s freedom of thought untrammelled by New York City litigious restrictions (“you want soil on the stage??” and “won’t we need liability disclaimer signs?”). New York is the epicentre of the global hegemonic culture – that power brings with it a weight of conformity, which forces the individual to change into fixed moulds in ways that are dangerous to society, including blocking the ability to see change which could be against our own interests. To push back against that weight is something the tangata whenua of Aotearoa are uniquely placed to share with the world, and the reception of Jack’s Indigenous Dance Forum demonstrates that there is an international audience ready to engage: the performance was sold out, wait-listed, with lines outside the door.

The performance formally began with a statement on the contemporaneous nature of the past, present, and future. A Lenape welcome by Karen Mosko (Munsee-Delaware Nation in Ontario, Canada) was followed by a new-media video presentation made by the Creative Focus Group Jack had worked with for several months prior to the performance, which was projected onto a mesh screen dividing the audience (seated on the stage) and the dancers (draped in green tulle on the risers). The video images represented the technology of the present, wherein people in the streets of New York were asked if they knew of the past tupuna of Manahatta, and they were invited to envisage a future of learning about the tangata whenua.

At the close of the video, the dancers Jasmin Canuel, Alison Lehualani DeFranco, Sammay Dizon, Bianca Hyslop and Marya Wethers began their story as goddesses, moving their life-force towards the audience, breaking through the dividing screen, which then dropped as the audience were physically moved from the stage onto the risers, exemplifying the movement and change as populations occupy indigenous space. A series of dance sequences followed utilizing the emergent skills of Christian Anayas, Dåkot-ta Alcantara Camacho, Marina Celander, Dorine Hoeksema and Alec Lichtenberg, wherein each dancer was given the space to demonstrate their own unique form of movement and talent, extending the narrative of the performance into exploring seedlings and the nature of growth, setting-down roots, the nourishment from the earth, and the power of harnessing movement and change into iterative forms of self-actualization.

The highlight of the performance was the explicit demonstration of the philosophical position that looking back to our past does not mean becoming stagnant. The performance moved into new areas of expression, with a sound composition by Dåkot-ta Alcantara Camacho comprised of modern instruments fusing with indigenous cultural instruments played by Jerome Kavanagh, Tecumseh Ceaser and Grace Osborne, and traditional song by Abe Lagrimas Jnr and Mark Mauikānehoalani Lovell (with hula danced by Jeannae Flores, Toni Pasion and Kaina Quenga) cleverly merging with contemporary rap by Alcantara Camacho and Arianna Lauren. Dancers wore the dress of their foremothers and forefathers, borrowed from Atamira Dance Company’s ‘Mitimiti’ production, and combined with contemporary designs and fashions gathered by the dancers themselves, including through indigenous online e-commerce platforms. It was the embodiment of self-aware movement into change.

The resounding message of empowerment and joyous acceptance of each person’s unique spirit, lifted the audience into the final segment of the evening: a rigorous panel discussion with members of the performance group and NYU student representatives, fielding questions such as how cultural contributions through dance and music can contend with the on-going violent atrocities committed against indigenous peoples. The fact this question was asked in the context of an Indigenous Dance Forum hosted by NYU, (which owns large segments of Manahatta) in New York City (the financial center for many corporations profiting from land-grabs and environmental destruction displacing indigenous peoples), is a huge testament to the transformative potential of New Zealanders sharing their experiences of challenging power through truth and creativity. Through this performance, positive change was put in motion. 


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