By Deborah Locke
When Rosy Simas (Seneca) auditions dancers for a new production, she throws the white European values on beauty out the window. She ignores the rules that dictate certain body types on a stage. Historically, professional dance is a “body-based form” that overlooks brown bodies, she said in an interview.
“So what I have worked on is creating opportunities for other Natives to present their work,” she said.
That opportunity blossoms in “Weave” a new production that will be performed on Jan. 12 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul. The diverse dance group will perform as many as 20 scores, each telling a story that blends native tradition, culture and history.
Or they may do six five-minute scores and four two-minute scores. In short, “Weave” is just what it sounds like, a fluid moving tapestry with a point of view that may or may not be obvious.
“Our concentration is to tell little abstract stories within a larger story,” Simas said.
The stories are told through dance, media, sound and objects. “Weave” will be performed in other cities, and each performance will be site specific, which means it will contain elements of that community’s Native history and culture.
If that sounds ambitious, know that “Weave” is in the hands of a gifted artist. Simas, who is from Minneapolis, has received top honors for her dance and choreography. She received a Native Arts and Culture Foundation Fellowship, and is a Guggenheim and McKnight choreography fellow. Her awards and well-received projects are many, so it is no surprise she came to the attention of the Ordway staff.
“Weave” is part of the Ordway’s “Music and Movement” series which consists of world music and contemporary dance. Ordway curator Dayna Martinez said she does international searches for performing artists who are rooted in a tradition, either cultural or artistic.
“Even though they are rooted in that tradition and it serves as a guide for the work, they create their work to be relevant to today,” she said. Martinez added that Simas, as a contemporary Native artist, has important and timely messages that emerge through her work. Those messages may be complicated and layered but at their base, they honor the artist’s history and tradition.
Like a woven tapestry, “Weave” was created and shaped in residencies at the Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis, in Tennessee, and in St. Paul. A residency is the time an artist stays in one location to develop work on their own or with their creative team and performers.
By the time this story appears, the “Weave” dancers – some from as far away as Alabama, Montreal and California – will have gathered in the Twin Cities to rehearse. It is that one-on-one contact between choreographer and dancer that Simas cherishes the most. For now, however, her professional career consists largely of administrative tasks like fundraising.
“The work is exhausting,” she said. “There are a lot of barriers for people of color to carve space for themselves in a field dominated by a white aesthetic, to always fight for a place at the table. I can’t just make art and perform it, I have to constantly be talking about why it is important to present work by Native contemporary dancers.”
If someone dropped $5 million into Simas’s lap, she said she would start a performing arts center for Native artists.
“We have a vibrant performing arts scene here in the Twin Cities that is deserving of a Native performing arts center that cultivates the next generation of performing artists,” she said.
This dream Center would feature theater, dance, music, and the visual arts. However, the reality is that most dance facilities are substandard, as though dance is an afterthought, she said. Additionally, when many Natives think of dance, they think only of powwow dancing.
Simas would take that $5 million and give her dance troupe a first class facility that would not just be for young people. In this dream center, you could be a choreographer at age 40, 50 or 60.
“The performing arts have lots of opportunities for people of all ages,” she said. Another benefit? When Natives do choreography or dance in a public performance, other Natives in the audience see themselves reflected back, and know they too can put their talents to use.
“Weave” will also be performed in Birmingham, Alabama, Washington D.C., Maui, Hawaii, and Philadelphia. International collaborators on the production include composer Francois Richomme, performers Zoe Klein, Sam Mitchell, Valerie Oliveiro and George Stamos, and local Ojibwe writer Heid Erdrich.
The Saint Paul performance will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 12 at the Ordway in Saint Paul. Tickets start at $22 and can be purchased online at www.ordway.org, or by calling 651–224–4222. Discounted tickets are available. Both pre-and post-show events are scheduled at the Ordway in Target Atrium at 6:30 PM and after the show and are free to ticket holders.
Complementing the January 12 performance, the Ordway and O’Shaughnessy will host several community engagement events for the Native community, dance community, and the general public. All events are free. More information about these and additional events can be found on www.rosysimasweave.com.
• January 5: Weave Open Rehearsal at 2pm at The O’Shaughnessy, St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Avenue in St. Paul. An open rehearsal where the audience will see dance being created and artists discussing with each other parts of the creation process. The last twenty minutes of open rehearsal are reserved for discussion with the audience.
• January 7: Get Real: A Native Feminist Artists Dialogue at 6pm at All My Relations Arts, 1414 E. Franklin Aveue in Minneapolis. Panelists will include Sharon Day, Marcie Rendon, Elizabeth Day, Heid Erdrich, Rhiana Yazzie, Rosy Simas, and Ananya Chatterjea (moderator). An exciting and engaging dialogue with Native feminist filmmakers, playwrights, performers, directors, authors, community organizers, and activists.
• January 9: Intergenerational Gathering – IIkidowin Youth Theater Ensemble and Rosy Simas Danse. 6-8pm at All Nations Indian Church, 1515 E 23rd St, Minneapolis.
• January 10: Movement Class with Visiting Artist Sam Aros Mitchell, from 11:30am-12:45pm at the the Ananya Dance Theatre, Shawngram Institute for Performance and Social Justice, 1197 University Aveue West, in St. Paul. A movement class led by Yaqui choreographer and dancer, Sam Aros Mitchell. This class is open to all kinds of movers – beginning, intermediate, and advanced.