UCSB instructor brooke smiley connects dance with land
UCSB teacher brooke smiley sweeps her arms effortlessly yet powerfully as she dances beside a creek in the trailer for “Lifelines,” a new film.
Dancers might call her performances post-postmodern or contemporary, but her style is best described in its connection to land.
Ms. smiley is also trained in earth architecture and somatics, creating a trifecta of land-body spirituality. She feels a connection to land, and she hopes people see it in the way she dances.
Ms. smiley, who made the creative choice not to capitalize her name, has Osage ancestry, and her native roots are referenced in her art.
The Western Arts Alliance awarded her one of five Native Launchpad Artist Awards, a prize valued at $40,000. It supports three years of travel, performance and artistic development to indigenous artists.
“The award to me is a whole process of even just applying for the award is a big deal because that’s the first time I’ve written an application that I felt like I didn’t have to change myself,” Ms. smiley told the News-Press. “It really means a lot to be honored for the next three years to create work that is a part of this transition. Just being seen is a transformative act.”
She aims to honor indigenous history with “Lifelines,” an improvisational score for dancers to interpret and perform in nature’s beauty.
“‘Lifelines’ is an opportunity for our national parks, or local historical places of interest, and indigenous communities to build relationships to honor who came before and who is still here,” Ms. smiley said.
She hopes to expand the project over the next five to 10 years, or maybe even longer.
A film of “Lifelines” premiered alongside a project called “Re:Forming” in a livestream from the Center Stage Theater Dec. 4. A recording of the performance is available until Jan. 1 at centerstagetheater.org.
“Re:Forming” originated with the media arts and technology department at UCSB. Since June, she, Samuelle Bourgault, Philip Kobernik and Mark Hirsch have been studying how to merge dance with 3D printing.
A pose-tracking software remembers Ms. smiley’s movements and prints them into a crystal sculpture. She liked the idea because it is reminiscent of her earth architecture work.
“Utilizing the printer in performance brings me into different ways of seeing myself and the performance,” she said.
To test the technology, Ms. smiley and her crew created a 2D picture that merged her class’s movements. The class was amazed to see their solos unified into a piece.
To amplify the “Re:Forming” performance, Vickie Scott worked with the team and designed the lighting.
“The lighting became another aspect of the performance that became so very important and valuable,” Ms. smiley said.
She describes the performance’s preparation as water, “so refreshing and easy.”
Ms. smiley also used the word “refreshing” to describe her work instructing dance classes at UCSB.
“I’m so proud of the work my students are doing. It’s been fortifying and renewing to spend this quarter together,” she said.
With her background in somatics, she aims to nurture her students’ mental health, equipping them with the tools to cope with life’s turns.
“Dance and somatic education, all our expressions are moving. It has a way of making visible our patterns, our preferences, our ways of being,” Ms. smiley said. “We can experience freedom and let the body lead instead of the mind; it’s healing.”
Her public art aims to center the community.
After the 2018 Montecito debris flow, she built a superadobe earth sculpture from Montecito mud called “Permission to Heal.”
She uses art to bring awareness to injustice.
“I think it really comes down to care and radical care and radical listening. I think it has a way of bringing out spaces in society and culture and on this land where it’s not equal,” she said.
Ms. smiley would like to see more American Indian and indigenous representation at UCSB, a campus built on Chumash land.
“It’s just time to give us our own space and to be accessible to our community and all communities,” she said. “I’m really here to support whatever I can do to create that into being.”
Her reverence for native ancestry extends through her work, and the Native Launchpad Artist Award encourages that expression in both her dance and earth architecture.
“I’m really honored that I’ve cultivated each of these skills specifically, and now I’m at a time in my life where I can be courageous and overlap them in a new way.”