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  • Culture Creators and Interconnected Individualism: Rulan Tangen and Anne Pesata’s Basket Weaving Dance
  • Tria Blu Wakpa (bio)

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Anne Pesata embodying her great-grandmother in the Basket Weaving Dance, choreographed by Rulan Tangen. Film by Louis Leray.

[End Page 106]

A basket is a basket because of how it’s made, how it means. Like story, like poems, like novels, like legal briefs, like films, like songs, like dances, like paintings, like sculptures, like moccasins, like drums, like gardens, making one is an act of Native rhetorical practice.

(Powell 2014, 483)

[The basket weaving dance is] just an artistic interpretation of a story. People choose different ways to interpret different things, telling stories through paintings, through photographs, through poetry, through songs, and [Indigenous contemporary dance] is just another thing. But it’s not traditional. It’s very contemporary, a modern art form. Because all of our dances are ceremonial and definitely not as expressive of the body or the face.

(Anne Pesata, Interview with the Author)

[T]he profound capacity of the human spirit . . . is exemplified by the leadership of Native women. This is an ethics of survival, of connection to the past generations, of responsiveness to the needs of this and future generations. It is present in all Native cultures, and it is present in the leadership that I have studied. That spirit is what sustains Native peoples, what inspires us and gives us hope for the future.

(Tsosie 2010, 29)

As an artist, I’m sure each one of these basket weavers is not just like, okay, here’s how it’s done. Here’s how it’s done. I’m sure every single time, they feel like they’re recreating a creation story—like oh, how does this willow want to be today or oh, it’s a little bit more red. Shall we work with the red? Or how does this weave in? So what we see is this industrialized mentality of [End Page 107] oh, it’s the tradition of basket weaving—as if it’s the same each time—but they’re recreating and reinventing every time they do it just in order to get from the beginning to the end of the process and stay engaged and constantly make the decisions that are needed in collaboration with the material. Dance is balancing that inner and that outer voice—what’s existing versus what’s coming from myself.

(Rulan Tangen, Interview with the Author)

[Indigenous contemporary dance] projects . . . enact ways of accessing knowledges that have been disrupted through continuing European colonization of North America and New Zealand, and . . . strengthen ways-of-being in relational and mutually beneficial exchange that colonization elides. . . . Indigenous contemporary dance choreography, including that occurring both in and around these staged performances, expands colonization’s unequal power parameters, transforming these—in however small a measure—into a lighter space in which reciprocal giving and taking, caring and caretaking, enact their own transformative possibilities.

(Shea Murphy 2013)

This article meditates on the interconnectedness of the making and meaning of an Indigenous contemporary dance work1 that draws on intergenerational Jicarilla Apache basket weaving practices. Rulan Tangen choreographed the piece, performed by Anne Pesata, which is inspired by Pesata’s lived experiences as a Jicarilla Apache woman and fifth generation basket weaver.2 Tangen—who identifies as mixed culturally, including Native, Polynesian, and European heritages—founded and directs Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations, an intertribal3 company which originated in 2004.4 Tangen created the piece in February 2014 to honor Pesata and other Indigenous women leaders.5 The choreographer’s commitment to undertaking projects that respond to Native elders’ contemporary concerns and dancers’ interests also guides its themes.6 Alongside music, the piece uses recorded voiceover that Pesata created and spoke.7 The voiceover makes transparent Pesata’s familial connections with basket weaving and other Jicarilla Apache epistemologies and practices. The dance also elucidates relationships between basket weaving and Pesata’s movements throughout, culminating in the creation of a figurative basket. According to Pesata, the dance “tells the story of the journey that you go through in making a basket from start to finish...


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pp. 106-125
Launched on MUSE
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