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Filled with Gratitude for all of your support!

June 5, 2014

Greetings Community,

I want to humbly thank each and every one of you for your support and love as I prepare to leave for Hollins University tomorrow. I have felt your love and I have felt your belief in me in this process and it has been overwhelming. From the benefit, to all of your words of encouragement and your offers to read my papers- All of this has been so deeply meaningful to me. I have sent some of you cards but I have not sent cards to everyone- and I want to! please email me your snail mail address so I can make sure I can send you my love to each one of you individually.

My email address is: deepwatersdance@gmail.com

I will be posting updates on this journey periodically over the summer so please stay tuned!

and keep dancing! dance is an art form among many forms that is not recognized by our larger society as being relevant or important. But I know all of you can testify how important it is in your life…so keep dancing and going to witness dance and sharing dance every opportunity you have!

I will miss you all and see you very soon,

All my love, Amara

It’s 2012…Let’s EAT!!!!!

January 23, 2012

Happy New Year of the Dragon!
we are mid way through the first month of 2012 and have arrived in this New year of the Water Dragon…The Dragon year is special as it represents prosperity and abundance. Typically in our society the idea of prosperity leads us to think about money. But ultimately Prosperity is about food. It is about being able to eat. You cannot survive any significant length of time without food and you cannot eat money.
So prosperity is ultimately about being able to EAT.
Last year my life was changed by “Our Daily Bread”; the dance theater piece I made about food, food traditions and sustainability which premiered at CounterPULSE this past April. I hoped that it would have an impact on the audiences that came to see it and I also knew that I too would be impacted by the experience as well…but I could never have imagined how much I would be impacted. I won’t recap that experience here (you can check out previous blogs right here to get that story)…
But what I will say is that since the making of “Our Daily Bread” all of my work involves not just eating, but being fed…nourished….
The fall of 2011, my company Deep Waters Dance Theater embarked on a series of EAT actions, inspired by our commitment to the post “Our Daily Bread” experience and the blooming occupy movement. In addition to our commitment to having regular EAT-Ins where we gather people together to share a meal and talk about food- We have created a project called EAT which stands for- Everybody At the Table, Everyday At the Table.
Our manifesto (which is still a work in progress) states that,”… we believe everybody has a right to be completely nourished. Food is nourishment for the body and Art is nourishment for the soul….” This, we believe is the right of every human being. We also believe in the right of every human being “…to have sufficient time to eat a home cooked meal at the table with family and/or members of one’s community on a daily basis..”
So we began our EAT actions. These actions involved us collectively cooking a pot of some sort of stew that was vegan (not because we are vegan, but because we wanted to feed EVERYBODY) and then we took to the streets, showing up at occupy Oakland events (Our company is based in Oakland) and feeding people with food, songs and dance. We have also embarked on a project with CounterPULSE and Catholic Charities Organization where we are collecting food stories from residents at 10th and Mission Housing and Edith Witt Senior housing on 9th and Mission. This collaboration includes a focus on working with the youth who live and attend an after school program at 10th and Mission housing. The culmination of this work will be a short documentary film shot by Erica Jordan about these residents who have been living here for just under 2 years. In addition our work with youth will culminate into a youth version of “Our Daily Bread” where young people will tell their own stories about food. Look for the results of this effort to be performed at CounterPULSE this coming May. This is the first (albeit short) in many blogs to come that will document this new journey. I encourage you to make a commitment in this new year of the Dragon, to eat regular home cooked meals at a table with yourself, family and/or friends/community.
And take…..your…..time……
in this new year, make sure to
digest.in.peace.

Thank you’s, a poem and a recipe…..

April 27, 2011

This past Sunday was our final performance of, “Our Daily Bread” at CounterPULSE. After a two week run which included 8 sold out performances and one show for students from Mission High School, I am still feeling the overwhelm of such a wonderful, ass kicking, joyous and painful experience that was the making and performing of this work. It has been a journey that felt so right to complete it where it all began-at CounterPULSE. The process was magical in the way that I believe magic really works. Not the Hollywood version of magic where everything sparkles, angels sing and a shaft of white light that speaks to you in a loud booming white male voice telling you what to do next. No, it’s the kind of magic where I thought I was up to my neck in what felt at times like a pool of shit wondering whether I should be worried that I would drown in this mess. But somehow I managed to surrender and accept that the pain of this process must be what it is supposed to be. Ultimately I believe that magic is really just a manifestation of faith. The beauty for me in this experience was the deep connections and sense of family/community that was made between all of the artists involved in this piece, everyone of which reminded me on a daily basis that some how we would get through it. Everyone involved surrendered to their ancestors who really guided this piece from the beginning. Andrew Packard and Erica Jordan’s video, Dana Kawano’s costumes, Laura Diamondstone’s Lobby installation, Lauren Elder’s Set, Ajayi Jackson and Guy de Chalus making music and Ellen Sebastian Chang being the daddy and directing this piece. Then there was the crew; Chichi, Del and Alejandro holding it down in the theater. And of course the performers; Stephanie Bastos, Eyla Moore, Alicia Walters, Adriel Eddo, Aimee Suzara, Pippa Fleming and Elizabeth Summers committing themselves completely in this work. And then there was the beautiful sense of community in the audience. There were familiar faces and there were faces that felt familiar. And by the end of every performance, I felt like the family grew. Folks hung out after each show to eat more blackeyed peas, write recipes on the wall in the lobby, help wash the dishes in the kitchen and sometimes drinking up the rum (as guests in the house do at times! I ain’t mad! it means they felt at home!) I am so filled with gratitude for this experience and everyone who I have come into contact with during the making and performing of this work, and all who supported the whole process. And it really began with CounterPULSE.

Honestly, without the absolute support of CounterPULSE in the making of this work from it’s beginnings as a work in progress 2 years ago, this piece never would have happened. Big ups to Jessica Robinson Love, Shamsher, Julie, Kat, Del, Mariana, Grace and Randy for being so gracious and enthusiastic in their support, stopping their work in the office to break bread with us which was an important part of our creative process.

This process continues to teach me so much about what community really means. The food we served during the show was cooked by me in my kitchen fresh each day before the performance.. This was extremely important to me and somehow through my exhaustion, I was always invigorated by this ritual. Everyday before the show, I would get up, go to the farmer’s market and get fresh berries and vegetables for the blackeyed peas and love bread that was served during the show (oh and yes, it was all vegan and all organic). Vegetables that we cut during the show, were then washed and cooked up for the show the following night. My hope with this piece was for people to have the experience of being fed and to leave thinking deeply about the food they choose to eat. It is something that I continue to try and commit myself to deeper everyday….

The last week of our show marked the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the gulf and I was reminded of how we must continue to develop deeper consciousness about how everything is connected. Industrialized farming and agriculture relies heavily on fossil fuel…eat local…have reverence for your food and where and how it comes to your table…Let your reverence for your food and the earth it comes out of be more important than whether it is cheap, quick and convenient….

We hope that we have the chance to continue to evolve this work and share it with more audiences in the future..there are many food stories to tell and we are grateful for all the wonderful people that shared their food and food stories with us in the process. At the bottom of this blog you will find a recipe for the blackeyed pea stew that I created for this show. It is written in the style of my Louisiana ancestors who never measured anything..just feel it…

I want to close this blog with a poem written by the beautiful poet Joy Harjo. Thank you Macklin for reminding me of this beautiful piece…

Perhaps the World Ends Here

BY JOY HARJO

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.


The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.


We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.


It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.


At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.


Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.


This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.


Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.


We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.


At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.


Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Digest in Peace ya’ll,
Amara
Recipe for
Onile’s New Day’s Black eyed Peas (inspired by New Year’s Black eyed Peas)
Note- this recipe will feed a small army so adjust accordingly but in the spirit of community, make it as is and invite your all your folks to partake!
Ingredients-
15 large handfulls of dried blackeyed peas
2 bunches of collard greens (kale or other greens can be substituted)
4 large onions chopped real good!
2 heads of garlic chopped so fine!
8 carrots cut in thin circles
1 head of celery (or is it a bunch of celery?) chopped fairly fine
2 bunches of Cilantro chopped fine
liberal amounts of cumin (one small handful)
Salt to taste
1 can of coconut milk
enough safflower oil to cover the bottom of your pot
Directions-
Wash all your veggies real good then get to cuttin’!
while you are cutting your veggies, put your blackeyed peas in a pot and cover with water and bring to a boil. Make sure there is more than enough water as your blackeyed peas will expand. Chop onions, garlic, carrots, celery and cilantro as noted above. Separate the veggies in different bowls; onions and garlic together, everything else in their separate bowls. Take your collards or which ever greens you choose and roll them length wise then chop them fine. Set aside.
After you finish chopping all your veggies, drain your blackeyed peas which should be boiling by now and have expanded somewhat. Drain them in a colander and leave them there. Clean out the pot and set it on the burner on medium/high heat. Add your oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Pour in the onions and garlic, stirring the whole time. Make sure not to let them brown. Next add your cumin, cilantro, salt and keep stirring. slowly add carrots and keep stirring not letting anything burn, adjusting the flame as necessary. once the onions soften, add the black eyed peas and a little more salt and cumin. continue to stir. Once all of the vegetables are integrated start to add water little by little, stirring the whole time. Make sure to only add enough water to cover the mixture but not to make it soupy. Once there is enough water to cover the mixture, add the celery then cover with the flame on high. Check often. Once the mixture starts to simmer, add the collard greens which should be thin enough as to appear shredded. Stir until the greens are fully integrated. Turn heat on high and let it come to a boil. Taste the stock often adding salt and/or cumin to taste. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the flame down low and let simmer for approx. 30-40 minutes. Check often during this time and add water if it appears dry but be careful not to make it too soupy as your coconut milk will round out the stock. After simmering for 30 minutes, add the coconut milk stirring well then let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes making sure not to let it boil.
Serve with or without rice or hot sauce but always with a lot of love!



Reflections on the opening weekend of “Our Daily Bread”…

April 20, 2011
L

Lauras Beautiful lobby Gazebo

This past Thursday, Our Daily Bread opened to very supportive and enthusiastic audiences. It was an amazing experience filled with love, food, exhaustion and the absolute commitment of all of the performers and creators who were integral to this experience. Laura Diamondstone created a magical environment in the lobby of CounterPULSE which really set the tone for the evenings experience. The first day I walked into the lobby while she was installing, I cried…it brought me back to my grandparents house and I was overwhelmed with memories and a longing for their kitchen which is where my family always congregated in their house on Berendo St. in Los Angeles.

And it that was only the beginning..

so many elements make up this piece- Lauren Elder created a set that brings our ancestors into the space. Dana Kawano put so much color and love into not only the making of the costumes but by her mere nightly presence with us. Erica Jordan and Darl Andrew Packard put so much thought and heart into the video element of this work. Ajayi Lumumba Jackson and Guy de Chalus play live, bringing us back and taking us forward with the music. And then there is our director, Ellen Sebastian Chang whose very presence has been grounding for us and who is the smartest and most deep thinking person that I know….

Then there are the performers- Aimee Suzara, Elizabeth Summers, Pippa Fleming, Stephanie Bastos, Eyla Moore, Alicia Walters and Adriel Eddo who have worked so hard and been so committed and poured so much love into this project…This is our family and this piece is our prayer…

This past week, we were told that due to changes to the city fire codes, part of the lobby installation that Laura Diamondstone created, would have to be removed. This part of the installation was very special to all of us and made us so very sad to lose…Ellen said that we should think of it at symbolic for the traditions that we lose, that we can only hold in memory..posted here is a of photo of that Gazebo that would greet you as you walked through the CounterPULSE doorway…we miss it very much…

Please come out and break bread with us this final weekend….

digest in peace,

Amara

The food chain is only as strong as the weakest link and other thoughts leading up to this monster called, “Our Daily Bread”

March 31, 2011

DWDT dancer Eyla gettin' down in front of CounterPULSE

celebration!

It has been a minute since my last post and sooooo much has happened. The artistic crew who are conjuring this work, Our Daily Bread celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s day and Mardi Gras this year by having an Eat-In in the middle of the afternoon of Tuesday, March 8th. MJ’s Brass Boppers kicked it off by parading a second line for 3 blocks. We started at 8th and Mission and went up to Market St., went down Market to 9th and then snaked around the corner to end up in front of CounterPULSE on Mission at 9th, where they continued to play and we danced up a storm! Shoot, we would’ve paraded for more blocks but seeing as I didn’t have a permit and all, we figured we would go short to avoid possibly being shut down…

At any rate, we finished the celebration by potlucking in CounterPULSE where we ate REAL good! The incredible Bryant Terry showed up and made this incredible ginger bread that will be featured in his new cookbook coming out soon! Folks brought all kinds of goodies; homemade crepes, soups, salads and of course I made recession stew and Jamaican cornbread which I am about to switch up so folks don’t think it’s the only thing I make…

It was a great day which you can catch a glimpse of on the beautiful video Erica Jordan made that’s on the DWDT homepage and is on the CounterPULSE website. It was quite a celebration.

Then, that Friday, Japan got hit with an earthquake and Tsunami and for me- everything changed even more…

Listen… the making of this piece, Our Daily Bread has been life changing for me and my work as a choreographer and performer. I have long been an artist whose work is rooted in addressing issues of racism, spirituality, environment and culture. But making this piece, Our Daily Bread has changed everything for me…it could be the last piece I make with Deep Waters Dance Theater…Food.Is.Everything.

I realize in writing this that I am jumping around… I am not a linear thinker so forgive me if this is frustrating but I come from a long line of tangent driven story tellers who will always tie everything together in the end..it’s our way….

You can go back to earlier posts to get a sense of what brought me to the point of making this dance theater work so I won’t repeat it now. But what I will say is I had no idea when I embarked on this journey where it would take me, how it would conjure up senses, tastes and feelings within me that I never knew possible. The stories people have shared with me; from food parties at CounterPULSE,  in homes in the Bay Area, Brasil, New Orleans, Senegal and  dance studio lobbies to Mark D’acquisto’s economics class at Mission High School- I am forever changed and I know I have yet to scratch the surface.

What I know is food is love, food is life….

So what the hell are we doing?

Our disconnect from the sources of our food, a chain which includes, first and foremost the earth, the way so much of our food is grown or raised then killed, the people that do it, the way it is processed, packaged, sprayed, transported- How are we complacent about the way this all goes down?

As my wise friend Fe Bongolan says, “Convenience is a cancer”.

Now the Nuclear meltdown in Japan.

Please do not talk about natural disasters. Nature did not make nuclear power plants which are all over our planet, including our Shaky State of California.

This has everything to do with food. Radiation from the melt down (call it what it is) is seeping into the soil near the plant in Japan. It is also being detected in the ocean. Eventually it will infect the fish and seafood that people eat (if it hasn’t already) and is a huge staple in the Japanese diet.

This is one earth/home…we are all affected…and so is our food.

I am so angry that I let this happen. The nuclear melt down, the gulf oil spill, the death of farm workers working in the fields in inhumane conditions and all of the ways that my mindless eating and food choices has supported the destruction of this planet.

Yet I am trying to be compassionate. First to myself as someone who is trying to change habits that are destructive to our home/earth, and then to others….

I am making a dance that hopefully reflects this journey about food.  I have been praying a lot in this process…I don’t know how this work will be received but the process has been an awakening that will continue for me beyond this show. What I do know is that in the tradition of my African and Native American ancestors, dance expresses not only our joy but our grief and determination to get through some how and this is how my artistic collaborators and myself are continuing to approach this piece…

I think that is what this piece is really about- how to get through this and survive…

Give thanks, be thoughtful and eat well.

Red beans and ricefully yours…

Amara

Letting go of gumbo..

February 12, 2011

For many years on my birthday, my mother would make her seafood gumbo. It was one of the few times I would ask her to make this dish and I always liked to share this experience with family and friends because my mother’s gumbo is an experience. It is thick, messy, full of crabs legs, shrimps, oysters and okra. We used to spread newspaper on the table, wear bibs and used nut crackers to crack the crab, the sound of folks sucking the meat out of the crabs legs filling the room. This is how it usually went down on my birthday.

This past weekend, I asked my mother to make gumbo for me for the last time.
Officially I stopped eating seafood many years ago but would always make an exception for the rare occasion that my mother makes gumbo. But the more I learn about the state of the world’s oceans and it’s sea life, the less I can partake in eating seafood even on a special occasion like my mother’s gumbo.

This is what’s up- There no longer exists any area in the world’s oceans that are unaffected by humans activities and commercial fishing is having a huge impact on the health of our oceans.
Fishing overall has one of the largest ecological footprints of any economic sector of the world (see monterey bay aquarium’s website for more info).
We are so out of balance with the sources of our food. In general, many of us are not thinking about the chain of events that take place in order to get the food that is on our plates. Where it came from, how it got there, who and what suffering and/or sacrifice took place for it to end up on our plates.

It is a challenge to try and trace every ingredient that we eat and even more so for those of us who eat out or often eat pre-prepared food.

And my mother’s Gumbo is so special and sacred to me. I have often said that my mother’s Gumbo is what connects me to my Louisiana roots on her side of the family.

My mother’s Gumbo is the inspiration for this dance piece I am making.

But this is one of the questions I am asking with the making of this piece-
“How do you maintain a treasured food tradition when that tradition is deemed unhealthy or unsustainable?”.
I made a conscious decision to honor a tradition that is precious to me by asking my mother to make Gumbo on my birthday-for the last time.
Leading up to the day, anytime I was asked about this looming event, I cried. It felt like a death to me. To lose Gumbo even though I only ate it rarely was a traumatic notion.
And even though my mother will probably continue to make Gumbo on rare occasions for other folks, I ate my last birthday Gumbo this past Sunday.

My mother and I shopped for the ingredients together. We ended up at Berkeley Bowl because we knew they would find both the seafood we wanted and the okra. While we shopped, we met two men whose families were originally from Louisiana. My mother was carefully picking through the Okra when a man who was waiting patiently, finally broke his silence. “So what time’s the Gumbo?” My mother and I both smiled. “Around 4pm” I answered.
This question came up again when we were at the seafood counter ordering our crabs and shrimps.
“oh yeah” this man said who was standing behind us. “It’s Gumbo time, I see!”. We ended up in a conversation with him. His mother was from Monroe, Louisiana. She moved out to Oakland in the 1940′s, a period in African American history known as The great migration . A large number of African Americans who moved to California during this period came from either Texas or Louisiana. My mother’s parents came to Los Angeles from Louisiana in the early 1900′s.
I almost only find myself in conversations like these with folks who have roots in the south. There is a way that we will end up talking about our families and history as if we already knew each other. This is one of the reasons Gumbo is so deep for me and my family. We end up connecting with folks from home….
Once we arrived at my brother’s house, I helped my mother cook this gumbo, watching carefully and listening intently to the stories she shared with me about her growing up..
There were so many stories, I will share them in another blog.

When it was time to eat, I gathered my family in the kitchen to recognize this moment. Those present included my two brothers, my nephew, my two nieces, sister in law, father, step mother, step brother, my godmother who is 102 (and hates to be referred to by her age) and a few close friends. I was not very eloquent in this moment. It was too emotional for me and I didn’t want to ruin it by crying or making it too serious. I wanted people to enjoy the Gumbo. But it was a sad moment for me that I didn’t really feel until the next day.
But that day, I got to watch my mother make Gumbo, share it with my family and enjoy a huge bowl of it myself. And it was sooo good!
It was loud and messy as always..

my mother looking over my garlic chopping technique for the gumbo

mama and me serving up her magic seafood gumbo

It makes me think that when we know we have a food tradition that we shouldn’t really be eating anymore, that the way to honor it might be to actually allow ourselves to eat it ceremoniously; whether we plan to eat it for the last time or to only have it on rare occasions, that we make conscious decisions about how and when we eat it and to savor all that it means to be eating it in that moment, both the positive and negative.

Thank you Mama,
For your awesome Gumbo all these years.
I love you.

The proof is in the pot, in the forest….

February 5, 2011
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