Dancer/Choreographer Maura García is an Indigenous woman (non-enrolled Cherokee/Mattamuskeet) whose work expresses the connections between past, present, and future through storytelling.
When it comes to your choreography, how much derives from the story you want to tell and how much is based on the music?
That depends on the piece. I have work I’ve created where poems were given to the composer [who] created music based on them, and then I came up with movement that was also based on the poems and then they were put together. So the movements were not necessarily made to go with the music. Sometimes they meet up, if you will, but it’s not a synchronized piece. I have other work where…I’ve sent them the choreography and they came up with the music based on the choreography. And lately, I’ve been asked to do music videos where they’ve already made the music, and I’m creating choreography to go with the music. So I create in all different types of ways.
Native American culture is often viewed by non-Natives as supernatural or mystic in nature. Given that, does your expected audience affect how you might design a performance?
No, because we can’t cater to racism or made-up stereotypes, so I don’t really worry about those types of things. I’m Cherokee and Matamuskeet, and the stories I’m drawing from are often Cherokee-specific, so even if it’s a Native audience, they may not understand things specific to our tribe.
Oftentimes, before the performance I may talk a little bit about the piece because I like for whoever it is—whether they’re Native or non-Native—to have some understanding of the imagery and the story behind it. I’m not big into putting things into certain genres, but if I want to communicate with people, I like them to know, “Oh the reason I’m doing this seven times is because seven is a sacred number to us,” or “There’s a reason I’m going in a circle this way.” So those types of things I tell people so they can have some context. They feel good watching the piece because they have some understanding, which is the whole point.
Your art primarily focuses on your Native American heritage. Do you draw inspiration from your other identities to any degree?
My answer would be yes, as I wouldn’t even know how to separate them or how anybody else does, actually. That’s a hard question to answer just because there’s many things I’m made of in terms of experiences and places I’ve been, and they all form a part of my work. I come from a place of being a Native woman, and my interest is in those stories, but I’m not so specific. One of my pieces, “Hey Google!” is a comedy. The elements and the colors and the aesthetics are specifically Cherokee, but it’s about Google Home Mini and privacy.
You write poetry, which—like dance—requires a distinct sense of rhythm. Do you ever channel one to create the other?
That’s interesting. I have used poetry and created dance from that or have created ideas for pieces from specific poems. I’ve included poems into performances and have choreographed them and have had someone else make them into music. I have not used dance to write poetry though. That’s an interesting thought. Someone else told me that “you write like it’s dancing” and I’m not doing that consciously, so I guess that’s just naturally how I write.
You also dabble in visual art. What subjects do you gravitate towards?
I actually have a background in weaving and embroidery, and I make a kind of traditional-style flat mat. I do incorporate that, where I’ve designed some of my own props and constructed and designed costumes. Lately, I’ve been trying not to do that and so work with people who are really—in terms of the sewing—artists of their own. I really loved weaving, but it takes a long time, and I don’t have time like that. I do gravitate towards painting, and there’s some of our traditional art forms that I also like to do, but I don’t make as much as I would like to.
I’m intrigued by your work as an orchestrator of community art projects. What’s one of your most personally rewarding projects?
Center of the Universe, which was a project funded by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and a Rocket Grant. I spent two weeks in DC looking at artwork and materials from ancient cities in the Midwest from a thousand to fifteen-hundred years ago. The whole project was drawn from the idea of urban Indian identity and what that means to us now. So working with the folks at the Indian Center, I was able to bring in other Native artists to teach different art forms. We did mapping and beadwork and we had a final presentation where people shared the dance we created based on the images and the artwork from Cahokia and Spiral Mounds, and all the artwork they had made over the course of six months was on display. So yeah, that was a great project because…I was able to really share what I had had the gift of seeing at the museum with the community. One young man told me that he had more interest in finding out more about his particular nation, but also in general about the greatness of Indigenous people.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
I just created a music video in collaboration with several other Native artists.
The music is by Navajo-fronted hip hop/jazz/funk fusion band, DDAT, and it was recorded in front of a mural featuring Osage design and language, created by visual artist Mona Cliff (A’aniih/Nakota). And then I’ve got two performances in August that are virtual; one on August 14th presented by La MaMa and Culture Hub in New York [as part of] a series they’re running, and the other one is hosted by Caldera Artist Residency in Sisters, Oregon. Also on the 9th of August I will be participating in a benefit concert for several social justice organizations.