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Daniel Banks directs productions for his theater company, DNAWorks

IAIA Revitalizes Its Performing Arts Program

Performing arts education at the Institute of American Arts, dormant for 20 years, has reawakened in this 2014-15 academic year. The institute appointed Daniel Banks, PhD, Associate Professor of Theatre and Performing Arts. The performing arts program has taken shape with three weekday courses offered, and four on weekends. This marks a revival of the program. “Performing arts funding was cut from the IAIA budget in 1995,”  said IAIA Dean Charlene Teters.

Banks teaches One-Act Plays and Community Building. Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque’s Poet Laureate, leads Speaking Truth and Power: The Evolution of Performance Poetry. Hanay Geiogamah, Artistic Director for the American Indian Dance Theater and the Native American Theater Ensemble, co-teaches New Ceremonies and Stories: Contemporary Native American Performance with Banks. The Institute is planning a new theater building, suggesting a deeper theatre and performing arts program to come and the potential to offer a performing arts minor.

Banks’s interest in theater as an element of community building led him in 2006 to co-found DNAWORKS: Dialogue and Healing through Art with Adam McKinney. His career has also included working as a choreographer at the Public Theater and a director at LaMAMA ETC in New York.

LaMAMA’s founder Ellen Stewart in 1972 co-organized with Hanay Geiogamah the American Indian Theatre Ensemble. American Indian Theatre Ensemble’s 16 original artists included a core group of seven performers from the IAIA, the largest contingent from a single institution. The IAIA’s seminal role in indigenous performance had crystallized two years earlier in 1970 when the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater opened as the first theater venue in the United States dedicated to contemporary indigenous performance.

With this revival of the performing arts department at IAIA, Banks has been adapting a performance component for student writers from IAIA’s strong creative writing department. In the coming year, Banks said, visiting guest artists will deliver additional instruction and workshops in dance, acting and writing.

A preview of those visiting contributors’ offerings occurred on Friday, March 6. Deep inside the warren of Del Charro at Santa Fe’s Inn of the Governors, Grammy award-winning artist Ty Defoe (spirit name Giizhig) introduced in his native Ojibwemowin the evening of spoken word. Defoe in English then relayed an indigenous creation myth featuring a trio of animals: the strong bear, the smart beaver, and the unprepossessing muskrat.

The earth flooded, the animals didn’t have a place to live. Each tried to use his gifts to collect enough dirt to build an island and put together a habitable earth. It’s the often overlooked muskrat who succeeded and did the most for the people.

From Hakim Bellamy’s performance poetry class emerged Joanne Morales (Taino), reading from her novel about giants interpreted by young girls. Collestipher Chatto (Navajo) articulated the phrase, “Armageddon comes four times a week,” reciting a hellish moral situation of conflicts between priestly authority, “the whore of fear,” and young gay men. Chatto while at IAIA has twice received a Truman Capote creative writing scholarship. Shannon Bear, Teklu Hogan and Ryan Young also performed.

Ty Defoe

Ty Defoe

Defoe closed the evening performing with a dance of his transgender switch from female to male. In his declaration of his “two-spirit identity” (niizhmanidoowug) he described “cutting away useless flesh” and paying homage to the secret life in bingo of his mother. The two-spirit state shifts elastically. Defoe’s tribal heritage includes Oneida teachings. His truth partner, Mary Kate Morrissey, of the russet-maned “Irish tribe,” accompanied Defoe with songs written under the name She + the Sea.

The vitality of Defoe’s performance along with readings by Banks and Bellamy, and the student writers’ confident deliveries, bode well for how the reborn IAIA performance curriculum might accelerate into critical mass.

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