Shawngram™ is struggle and resistance as an active daily force. In our work, the principle of Shawngram™ arises from our research of women’s lives in global communities of color and our careful analysis of the world around us.
The philosophy of Shawngram™ permeates the technique of Yorchha™ to effect a critical difference. Just as our hands are stained crimson when we peel pomegranate and the juice spills onto our hands, yellow when we work with freshly ground turmeric, so Shawngram™ becomes an active shaping force that guides movement generation and choreographic choices. It invigorates our creative process and drives our performance and community-building work. It becomes a filter for our decision-making and creative choices; it inhabits our casting and our work as a collective.
Shawngram™ is the consciousness that has guided the creation of our trademark “okra walk,” which brings together long lines of energy with curvilinear hip movements. This walk was created in honor of the women who have been engaged for years in the Seed Sovereignty movement and protested the introduction of the genetically-modified, seedless okra. Our “okra walk” celebrates the round seeds inside the okra vegetable.
Shawngram™ also shapes our content as it calls attention to the world in which we live, through stories of injustice and courage and our location within a broader community. It celebrates histories and communities of women that have been silenced or marginalized by shining light on their stories of struggle, devastation, courage, love, and resilience.
Guided by Shawngram™, we conduct story sharing and movement circles, where the community is invited into the creative process. In these ways, Shawngram™ reveals our belief in the strong relationship between art making and social and political change.
A vital element of Shawngram™ is the extensive thematic research that sustains our creative process. The philosophy of Shawngram™ drives us to cultivate active listening within our communities and vigilance to forces at work in our world. This is how we arrive at the themes for our choreographies, such as environmental injustices and women’s histories.
This same principle guides the investigations that undergird the creative process of each work. Dancers and creative collaborators alike research the issue or idea that is at the heart of each piece in order to reach their understanding and emotional conviction. Our story-sharing circles, where company members are often joined by members from the broader community, allow us to share our research and discuss them with others to create shared and nuanced understandings of the theme.
Shawngram‘s focus on actual experiences means that there is no hierarchy of stories and mythical and ritualized ideas must sit alongside daily histories. Thus, in Moreechika, the choreography of a bird trapped in ocean waters covered by an oil spill, its wings heavy with oil, can be intersected by a section inspired by the belief of the indigenous U’wa people of Colombia that oil is “ruiria,” blood of the earth, and must be left where found.
Our belief in Shawngram™ as a global force encourages us to invoke a world of women who come “from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” Thus, the stories that inspire the work are not narrated in a linear fashion, but become take-off points for exploration and are choreographed such that we see the resonance with other stories, perhaps from very different contexts, or we see their contrasts. For instance, Mohona juxtaposes the choreographies of four goddesses – Ganga (India), Mazu (China), Chalchiuhtlicue (Aztec), and Oshun (Yoruba) – reflecting the ways in which water has been imagined in different cultural contexts. While embodying very different energies, each goddess arrives in the piece at key moments, shifting the energy of the piece and its emotional trajectory, each time revealing a key story about water. Such juxtapositions create permeability and offer audience members different perspectives on a single theme.
By bringing to the forefront little known histories, Shawngram™ also invigorates a key principle in our preparation as artists and communicators. It helps us build emotional and intellectual stamina and maturity that must match our physical prowess and virtuosity. Because Shawngram™ is defined in terms of vibration, it also pushes our vigilance and accountability. How can we remain inspired by these stories and find an appropriate way to some experiences that might not be our own but are inspirational for this work?
Shawngram™ guides us never to tell the stories of others or to assume that those whose voices are not heard are weak or unable. Instead, working through Audre Lorde’s idea of biomythographies, we can interest memory, history, and imagination to create shared stories that are articulated through metaphor and invite varying interpretations. The vibrating energy of our rhythms and footwork expand outwards and encourages us to remain sensitive to and vibrate with the pain and struggle of our communities.
Shawngram™ becomes about our accountability, encouraging self-reflection and critical assessment of our own practices as we build our work as a platform for multiple concurrent voices, articulated through the strong ensemble dancing that is central to our dance pieces.