In April 2022, after five years of developing a performance series, TERRITORY, an ensemble performance and ritual based installation, TERRITORY: The Island Remembers, premiered through Gibney Presents April 4-7, 2022 on unceded Lenape land in New York City. TERRITORY: The Island Remembers was researched, developed, and co-created by a multiracial and multi-ethnic artist of color ensemble using collective, devised theater, and ritual methods. The ensemble is Raha Behnam, Ube Halaya, x, Marielys Burgos Meléndez and lead artist zavé martohardjono. The premiere was a week-long multimedia installation activated for three nights with rituals, performance, and audience-interactive actions.
Artist talk about TERRITORY process during Gibney Dance in Process Residency
TERRITORY: The Island Remembers is a queer, camp, poetic, multidisciplinary, and audience-interactive performance project that critically examines colonial history through a parable of an island that grapples with division and reconciliation. In the parable, an island split by a colonial border grapples with division and reconciliation. The island is home to many beings, plants, deities, histories and memories, and two estranged communities of brown people. On one side, mountains have been stripped for metal, and a colonized community struggles to survive exploitation. Across the border, the jungle is green and the rivers are clear where an autonomous community has kept colonization at bay. One day, ultimate climate disaster brings the two communities into interdependent protest, mutual aid, and revolutionary survival.
Central to TERRITORY: The Island Remembers parable is a dynamic about community interdependence. Despite centuries of racial and socioeconomic division, the island’s two sides (one colonized and one autonomous) join together when climate disaster strikes. Becoming interdependent in protest, mutual aid, and revolution, two societies steward the island towards health. TERRITORY asks what conditions, reconciliation, and accountability can untangle human disaster. The parable of TERRITORY: The Island Remembers draws from historical divides such as those between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as on-going anti-colonial freedom struggles such as the Free Papua struggle against Indonesia, Hong Kong protests against China, Puerto Rican independence movement, and the recent Myanmar protests.
An in-progress showing at Movement Research at the Judson Church on October 18, 2021
The ensemble of co-creators (Raha, Ube, x, Marielys and zavé) performed archetypal deities they each created. As these deities, they activated an installation and guided visitors through the complex history of a parable island. During installation open hours and during performances, audiences took part in rituals and collective actions to honor and repair the island. TERRITORY: The Island Remembers asked audiences to remember histories, cultures, and legacies of revolution and land stewardship that have been redacted by colonial racial-capitalism. The work concludes with questions about what a reparative future beyond climate disaster and human destruction could look like today. Audiences received a Land Stewardship Resource Guide when they entered the installation and, at the end of each performance, heard from activists from Movement for Family Power, a thousand people a thousand trees, and Brooklyn Eviction Defense to educate audiences about ongoing abolition and land justice movements needing support.
Together, the ensemble designed a multimedia installation, wrote and edited a parable, and created performance scores, choreography, and audience-interactive rituals to activate the installation. Supporting the ensemble were Island Stewards Katherine De La Cruz and Jordan Reed, Sound and Music Director Julia Santoli, Installation Artist rosza daniel lang/levitsky, Video and Media Producers Kathleen Kelley and Bree Breeden of Proteo Media + Performance, Co-Director & Associate Producer Maya Simone Z., and Production Manager Rebecca Fitton.
Central research questions prompted ensemble artists to trace histories of Indigenous revolution and political dance practices connected to their ancestry, many which have been erased or overshadowed by Eurocentric versions of history. With NYPL Dance Research Fellowship access to the Dance Division, ensemble artists are researched dance and myths connected to their Iranian, Indonesian, AfroTaina-Arawak, Jamaican-Chinese, Filipino and Tagalog ancestries. For some, this process offered reconnection to ancestral culture they have been disconnected from by way of assimilation and colonial conditioning.
The artists are developed deities which they performed as to tell the parable to audiences and installation visitors. Raha, Ube, and zavé developed three deity characters to perform the work by researching Iranian, Tagalog, and Balinese myths and examining their colonized and migrant histories. Mythic archetypes shaping their deities include: the Persian mythical bird called the Simurgh which represents collective power, Anagolay, the Tagalog goddess of lost memory and people, the Balinese queen of demons called Rangda who represents destruction as a force for justice. Ensemble members’ deities were based on archival research, the artists’ ancestral mythologies, and embodied research including divination and sound and dance improvisations generated together in residencies and rehearsals. Dropping mythic global deities into contemporary Western performance environments, ensemble artists connected ancestral culture to present socio-political questions.
The global economic crash due to the pandemic and Spring and Summer Black Lives Matter uprisings further contextualized TERRITORY’s questions. Late-stage capitalism ground to a halt, revealing the U.S. government’s failed healthcare and social systems. Simultaneously, air, wildlife, and land were — for a time — healthier than ever. With creative engagements paused, artists in the ensemble joined neighbors in New York City to rapidly build local mutual aid networks, organize rent strikes, and protest for Black life and future livelihood. Witnessing New York City — a highly gentrified, corporatized, and colonized global hub — organically respond to crisis with community building for collective survival shifted the artists’ creative process. The island parable gained new questions: Can disaster necessitate reconciliation between divided peoples? Can this mutual aid alternative to history become our future? Can we contend with and transform internalized colonization and racial-capitalism to shift from crisis to co-creation?
Co-creator, Writer, Performer, Director, Producer, Multimedia & Installation Designer, Costumes
Created and performed the deity Ultimate Disaster
Maya Simone Z.
Co-Director, Associate Producer
Co-creator, Writer, Performer, Installation Lead
Created and performed the deity See-More
Co-creator, Writer, Performer, Costumes
Performed the deity Memento Mori
Created and performed the deity Bao
Marielys Burgos Meléndez
Created the deity the Seeker/Sower
Music and Sound Director
Proteo Media + Performance
Video Production, Projections
rosza daniel lang/levitsky
Jordan Reed, Katherine De La Cruz and Theresee Tull
Island Stewards & Community Engagement Coordinators
The TERRITORY creative team would like to thank our amazing supporters, friends, and family who have made this project possible. We thank Eva Yaa Asantewaa for commissioning TERRITORY: The Island Remembers at Gibney and TERRITORY: Uptown at the 92Y in 2019. We thank curators who supported 2018-2021 TERRITORY iterations:
Taraneh Fazeli, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
Andrea Neighbors, The Smithsonian + The Kennedy Center
Lily Mengesha, Tufts University Department of Dance
LMCC Workspace Residency
Movement Research at the Judson Church
The work was developed in 2019-2021 through the Movement Research AIR program, in 2021 through a Gibney Dance-in-Process residency, and researched and developed with the support of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division through a 2021 NYPL Dance Research Fellowship and The Puffin Foundation. The project was made possible, in part, through The Movement Research Artist-in-Residence Program, funded, in part, by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation; Dance/NYC’s New York City Dance Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program, made possible by The Andrew M. Mellon Foundation; the Harkness Foundation for Dance; the Davis/Dauray Family Fund; and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.