January 23, 2019

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A Showcase for the Abundance and Breadth of Indigenous Performance

A Showcase for the Abundance and Breadth of Indigenous Performance
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While the tone may be somber at times, there is also much to celebrate. SJ Norman, an Australian artist of Wiradjuri and Wonnaruah heritage, said in an email that the opportunity to gather in New York “feels like an honoring of the continued existence of our peoples in the big city, as well as the dynamism and globalism of our peoples, which is absolutely vast.”

Far from merely checking boxes, the Dialogues grew out of a wariness similar to Ms. Miguel’s about diversity, or a related hope: to build lasting institutional support for Indigenous performing arts worldwide. “This is about a deep cultural shift, deep cultural change,” Ms. Johnson said. “We are very adamant that this is not about just putting your name on something, not about doing the least amount of work.”

A Native Alaskan artist of Yupik ancestry, Ms. Johnson has been working tirelessly to counter what she calls “the perceived invisibility” of Indigenous performing artists, particularly in the United States. Funding for Indigenous performance is more robust in Australia and Canada, and said Ms. Johnson said that in her home country she has often found herself wondering: “Where are the Indigenous works? How do we bring this work forward?”

Mr. Gantner, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and lives in New York, has observed similar disparities. “Here it’s kind of stuck into a corner of folk or community practice, or traditional or ritualistic,” he said. “In Australia and elsewhere in the world, it’s not; it’s understood as a dynamic contemporary expression of a culture.”

One approach to bringing the United States up to speed is an ambitious pilot program, the Global First Nations Performance Network, which will be in development during this year’s Dialogues. (Planning sessions are closed to the public.) The envisioned network will include 15 institutions from Canada, Australia and the United States — with the potential to expand to other countries — all dedicated to commissioning and presenting works by Indigenous artists.

The network also requires, of each presenter, a commitment to undergoing what Mr. Gantner calls “a kind of decolonization process.” This could involve steps like hiring Indigenous board and staff members, building relationships with local Indigenous communities and implementing land acknowledgment, the practice of honoring the native inhabitants of a place.



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