Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sharing The Stories

Graphic Design By Appolllo Bey
I have always been drawn to Coyote stories. I have always been drawn to the first people of our land. I grew up in a place where being close to nature was part of my every day. As a child I hunted arrow heads in the red desert cliffs near my home. I climbed the rocks when I needed an escape, solitude, a place to imagine. Both of my parents taught me a deep appreciation for the Earth, her beauty and what she offers. The Wyoming landscape became our church. We spent our free time hiking, picnicking, riding, camping, and enjoying her beauty.  My favorite hide out was in the cliffs above our town. I used that place to imagine myself living among the first people. My grandmother always reminded me that one of my great Irish grandfathers had wed into the Ojibway. She has these lineage lines written into the Family Bible, marking the marriage and the children, and eventually these lines lead to my birth. Where I grew up, the reservations were all around us, the unjust stories of the land being taken away from the people, still fresh in the collective conscious. I feel connected to this community.

Coyote's Dance At Ailey Citigroup Theater

When I first started storytelling in New York City, I pulled from my collection of stories from my childhood, and Coyote stories. I found that Coyote was a great teacher, and I could relate to his antics. He is a risk taker, a dream maker. Something I can only hope to be.

When we premiered Coyote's Dance in 2006, we had a wonderful response both from the Wyoming community and from the New York City community. The New York Times even wrote a compelling review. As we have toured the piece over the years (Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, Illinois, New York, and Wyoming) we are often told we can't tell these stories. We can't dance in this way. Emily choreographed the piece with such sensitivity to the first people. And Treehouse Shakers makes it clear in our study guides and press we aren't trying to be Native Americans. We want to share these powerful and moving stories. We have chosen ways that are artful, tasteful, and respectful. Sometimes, all non-Native Americans mind you, have told us we can't do what we are doing. And to these people I want to say, these stories must be shared. These stories are as valuable to every living person as they are to the people who live by these stories.

2008 Performance of Coyote's Dance
For the original program, and every program since, I have included this note "Having grown up in Wyoming, and eventually living in New Mexico, I observed coyote countless times. Coyote is often viewed as a feared menace amongst ranchers and as often, revered in Native stories as a shape shifting sacred trickster.  Coyote is the only animal in North America who continues to adjust to the ever-growing human population. Coyote reaches new territories using an intelligent mind; surviving on meals from all links on the food chain.  Coyote, the animal, is not that different than his story depiction.  Tale after tale, Coyote adjusts to circumstances with uncanny response and his wiles. In Native cultures Coyote is a great teacher, a clown, and notorious trickster. His adventures instruct, inform and warn us human beings about our foibles and brilliance. The tales of Coyote are profound and sometimes wildly funny.   

The tales in Coyote's Dance are retellings of adapted versions still shared by the Pima, Cheyenne, Okanogan and Shuswap tribes.  Some of the sources I found were in American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes and Alfanso Ortiz.  They were carefully crafted and retold for all audiences, native and non-native.   Inspired, I went on to discover as much about Coyote, the animal and the mythic creatures, that I could feast upon. I crafted the essence of four stories into theatrical pieces.  I chose what felt universal and also redolent with Native knowledge. I hope that their spirit, wisdom and compassion remain true to the oral flow of shared language that has kept them alive and significant for a very long time.  After working on Coyote's Dance, I have become a great believer in the mischief and magic of Coyote. Children everywhere love these tales."
Coyote's Dance, 2006
I am so thrilled that Coyote's Dance is returning to New York City this May. We started the year touring this piece in New Mexico and then onto Wyoming for the third time. As we have been performing, I have been reminded that these are very wonderful and rich stories. The best way to keep them alive is to continue to bring them to our children and their families. I love what Laura Simms my mentor, the amazing storyteller, humanitarian, and author wrote of this piece, "Our children need nurturing good stories. Awareness of the existence of indigenous cultures of the American West, rich with oral tradition based on respect for  our interdependence with the natural world, is extremely helpful to our children who often live removed from direct knowledge of ancestors and nature and diversity. In the traditional world, stories such as these tales would have more specific cultural, and often secret meanings shared among a People.  However, their inherent wisdom, humor, compassion and fundamental teachings are relevant to everyone; because wisdom is based on insight and appreciation. I am so moved by the gathering of these tales, adapted respectfully from four native sources that make up Coyote's Dance.   I am so moved by the generosity of traditional peoples who share what they can of their culture for the benefit of all children. My hope is that as many children as possible experience the joy and meaning of this wonderful theater event. In these deeply troubling times we need to expose our children to dynamic experiences of happiness, diversity and hope."

I hope you too will come and bring your families to appreciate the stories, to experience the dance, to hear the music. It is a performance that is dear to Treehouse Shakers, and is one, we feel, of deep importance. We hope you will join us!

Treehouse Shakers

Coyote’s Dance

Written By Mara McEwin
Choreographed By Emily Bunning
Original By Music Roderick L. Jackson & Ulali

Join Treehouse Shakers with their original dance-play, Coyote’s Dance, written by Mara McEwin, choreographed by Emily Bunning and music by award winning musicians Roderick Jackson and the First Women’s Nation a cappella group, Ulali. Coyote’s Dance leads audiences into the remarkable world of Coyote, the infamous mischief-maker from Native American cultures. Follow Coyote as he humorously tries to turn himself blue with the help of a songbird, outwit a sly and handsome Fox for his eagle feathered-robe and dances with the mesmerizing stars in the universe. The set, compiled of several trampolines, keeps audiences thoroughly awe-struck as Coyote and friends fly, jump and dance through the air. The engaging contemporary dance, live music and beautiful costumes will have even the youngest of audience members dancing and laughing in their seats.

Coyote’s Dance is geared to be immediately digestible by younger children, but has enough cleverness and wit to win over audiences of all ages. This May, don’t miss the return of Coyote’s Dance, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before!

Upcoming Performances


Date/Time: May 4, 5, & 6 @ 11 am (School Performances)
                   May 7 @ 1:30 pm (Public Performances)
Where: The Ailey Citigroup Theater
Joan Weill Center for Dance
405 West 55th St. (Corner of 9th Ave.)
Tickets: $15 General Public,
            Call for Student Discounts and Group Rates
Box Office & Info: 212.715.1914 or
To Buy Tickets Online: Go to Tickets
Subway: A, C, 1, B, D to Columbus Circle or Q, N, R to 57th St./7th Ave.
Performers: Ashley McGill, Malinda Crump, Roderick Jackson, Mara McEwin, Sarah Milosevich, and Miranda Wilson
Original Music: Roderick Jackson & Ulali
Costumes: Patti Gilstrap
Lighting Design: Dan Ozminkowski
Treehouse Shakers Info:

Coyote’s Dance is made possible in part with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and by the New York State Council on the Arts 


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