excerpt from

Body, Space, Place: Creating Indigenous Performance

           Ritual Preparation is a term that I coined when the processes I used  repeatedly resulted in ritual-like actions.   Bodily movements, gestures, actions, and vocalizations, combined with rhythm, create a sort of coded expression of a culture.  Their charged meanings reveal a living sense of the culture, its place and worldview. To and express self through  this coded language is to actively live the culture.  For marginalized indigenous groups, such participation is  empowering for it is a psychophysical model of their way of being in the world.

In my experience, because it is an expression of their culture, the work  of recovering and reworking traditional codes serves a social/cultural therapeutic value.  The performers need to make it their own by re-engaging and re-configuring the performance elements into a living example  of a culture’s vitality. A performance produced by this process can serve as a demonstrable project the group has created and  a participatory process, which can be joined by greater community, as audience.   

The reaction of a Yup’ik Eskimo audience member demonstrates how one of  the audience members—having negotiated the multiple spaces of his modern and traditional world—was able to enter the liminal place of performance.

The process of Ritual Preparation becomes the group’s  diagramming of place with the goal of public performance.  Ritual Preparation serves to organize previously explored performative elements into  an affirmative act uniting self and culture.  The participants step out of a contemporary, Western-influenced world and “re-boot” their own worldview by reawakening their rhythms, performance language, and community .  All the elements, all the spaces, all the participants coalesce in the place of performance.

Ritual Preparation has been successfully used  in a variety of indigenous and non-indigenous settings—with Alaska Natives, in Zambia, with the Zulu, Korea, the Sakha of Siberia, a Slavic group in St. Petersburg, and with a variety of folk and multi-cultural groups in Europe and the United States.  Ritual Preparation becomes a sub-cultural forum—a sequence of events and actions not unlike the time-honored performance formations created by shamanic practices and often codified by their traditions. My experience as a field researcher of shamanic and ritual healing practices in a variety of cultures—Sakha (Siberia), Zulu, Miao and Yao (China), Korea, and !Xuu and Khwe Bushmen (lower Kalahari)— has led to the identification of  a similarity of pattern, method, and function among shamanic healing rituals, the inspiration    for Ritual Preparation.  My role as facilitator is not unlike that of the traditional shaman whose primary function is “to create a state of interaction, to bring out both his own task as mediator and also the role of the supernormal figures in the ritual performance” (Siikala, 1978).   Fundamentally, such an action demands that participants join in the art of social role-changing, a transformation that often entails ecstatic role taking techniques enabled by rhythmic drumming, singing/chanting, and dancing (codified movements) that bring on a gradual alteration of consciousness.   (Siikala, 1978)...

Body, Space, Place: Creating Indigenous Performance



Workshop Video


Ritual Warm-up

Tukak' Teatret, Greenland Inuit

Ritual Warm-UP

Metamorphosis Theatre

St. Petersburg, Russia

Ritual Warm-Up

Sakha National Theatre, Siberia