Daniel Wilkins premieres a new work here in September. With Tale of Ten Green, the choreographer and artistic director of DASSdance hopes to engage his audience with the cause of the Awa people who are being threatened by illegal logging. A Sept. 20 Gala performance will benefit Survival International’s work to help these indigenous people retain their ancestral home and way of life.
Wilkins formed DASSdance in 1996 and has a long history of working with nonprofits in New York (where the company began) and Seattle. His pieces often intertwine the art of movement with the issues that intrigue and inspire him.
The company is currently in rehearsal for the opening night performance later this month (DASSdancers Mia Monteabaro and BoJohn Diciple shown here in a recent rehearsal). In a recent interview, Wilkins spoke about how he came to create this latest work.It all began with a newscast about events many thousands of miles away from his home in Seattle.
How did you learn about the Awa?
A newscast showed aerial footage of indigenous people and said that these people were "undiscovered." That they had no contact with the outside world. I was fascinated by the idea that there could be human beings that had never seen an iPad or picked up a telephone. What would my consciousness be like if I had had none of these material things?
Have you traveled in Amazonian jungle?
I have not traveled to this specific area but I have been to Brazil on tour with Complexions Contemporary Ballet (NYC). It was on then that I decided to become a choreographer. While in Brazil, I was introduced to the conditions of third world poverty and decided at that point that I would never create work without meaning, that I would respect people that had so little and went through so much every day. I would love to tour Tale of Ten Green to Brazil to represent the indigenous people and to bring exposure to the crime that is taking place on their land.
How do so many social issues end up in your works?
When I create work I try to get to the root of the situation or inspiration. For me that root was the spirituality of being connected to your natural environment as well as the reality of the hideous crimes that are being played out on the Awa people and their land.
So is there something that we can do about a problem that’s happening in another country?
It takes an extra care to want to do something about crime so far from your own home. Seattle is the perfect city to bring up a subject such as this because it is common here to care about the environment and other important issues that affect our local and global community.
Are there any specific movement influences that you tried to bring into this work?
I did my very best to research dancing from indigenous people in Brazil It is extremely difficult to find music and authentic dance. To make this work completely authentic would take an enormous amount of funding and research and may end up not being the kind of comment I hope to achieve. The dance movements derived largely from my own All-Terrain style of dance vocabulary mixing modern, ballet, and a variety of athletic influences. The one element that makes Tale of Ten Green different from my other works is the simplicity of some of the sections.
Why strive for simplicity?
Because I want people to walk away with a salt of the earth feeling, a feeling of attachment to the simple things, I created movements that brought up every day activities that these people might go through, the goal not being merely entertainment but intimacy with each other and their environment.
How did you come to select Survival International as a partner for this performance?
In my research about the uncontacted tribes, I discovered the dire trouble they were in and the importance of their fight. Most of the information I found was through Survival International. This was a worldwide organization that was giving the Awa a voice. In the past DASSdance has partnered with Read Across America, Real Change, and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance among others. I have found it to be incredibly satisfying for myself as an artist as well as the audience to be inspired by and align with a newly created work to a topical issue. Your job as an artist is to serve the community and be a voice with your talent to create understanding about things that we all care about.
Tale of Ten Green will be performed by DASSdance at Washington Hall on Sept. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m.
The benefit Gala on Sept. 20 will include pre-show cocktails at 7 p.m. with a dinner following show. To learn more, visit the DASSdance website.