‘We Still Dance’

Honoring Wampanoag history and culture through the art of performance.


We will all have a chance to see something very special at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 3 pm. Danza Orgánica and members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) will present their creative multimedia performance “Âs Nupumukâunean (We Still Dance),” which highlights traditional and contemporary stories of the Aquinnah Wampanoag people through dance, song, installation, and storytelling. October’s performance is a culmination of four years of creative and collaborative development. 

Members of the tribe first connected with Danza Orgánica during their 2018 residency at the Yard. The Boston-based dance theater company creates antiracist, antipatriarchal, and decolonizing work with — and for — communities interested in embodying a liberated future. Mar Parrilla, the company’s founding artistic director, says that after their performance during that residency, Aquinnah Wampanoag elder Kristina Hook, whom Parrilla had invited to attend, approached her saying, “I could relate to the story you were telling; it could have been ours. Can you help us tell our story?” The Yard saw an opportunity to build a bridge with the community, and a collaboration was born.

Parrilla says that her group went to meet with different people in the Wampanoag tribe, and the beginning was a process of gaining trust and getting to know each other. Then, little by little, the piece started to take shape as the Aquinnah Wampanoag collaborators determined which stories they wanted to tell that they felt comfortable sharing with a larger audience.

The world premiere of “Âs Nupumukâunean” is the culmination of the smaller components they have worked on over time. There is a portion that focuses on whaling, stemming from the origin story about the giant Moshup, who created the neighboring islands and Noepe (the Wampanoag name for Martha’s Vineyard), and taught the Island’s first inhabitants how to fish and catch whales.

Another portion is about what it means to be native today. Parrilla says, “It was developed jumping off of the idea of passing on traditions of the adults to the children, and then included poetry from various tribal members to highlight the idea that the history of native people is not just in the past, but they are still here, as well as the struggles that they are facing and about the future.”

The performance also includes interviews with different members of the tribe that will be interspersed throughout the work, making it a multimedia performance with video installation, live music, and an intergenerational dance theater group. The cast consists of four Danza Orgánica members and 10 Aquinnah Wampanoag performers, including two young people. For many of them, this is their first time being exposed to performing contemporary dance and nontraditional movement. Jannette Vanderhoop — artist, educator, gardener, yoga instructor, and one of the dancers, says, “I like seeing not-typical dancers. Mar has a way of engaging the people she works with. I think that it’s been a really incredible piece for us to work on as a group of people. We all work on things together all the time, yet something like this is so out of our comfort zone. But sharing our culture is really amazing.”

Parrilla believes it is important for people to come and see the stories of the original inhabitants of the land that we occupy. “It is intergenerational, and speaks to people of all walks of life. For me, it’s this meta-concept of life cycles,” she says.

Parrilla said she hopes that Native American viewers come away with a sense of pride by being represented onstage, and knowing that their stories are being told. “As a director, I shift and mold, but [the tribe] approved every step of the way.” And for non-BIPOC audience members for whom this is the first exposure to a native story, Parrilla says, “I want them to leave with a sense of curiosity to learn more and to further open their minds to other people’s realities — for everybody to recognize the impact of our actions upon one another and the world.”

Vanderhoop wants audience members who don’t know about Moshup, or did not know that the Aquinnah Wampanoag were whalers, to realize that they have a continuous presence here on Noepe. She explains, “There’s a theme that the elders talk about regarding our land, which is that when we’re not on it, we fall down.”

Ultimately, what Vanderhoop would like the audience to come away with is, “To feel hopeful and full at the same time.”

“Âs Nupumukâunean (We Still Dance),” which is appropriate for all ages, takes place on Saturday, October 15, at 3 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center. This work is made possible through a partnership between the Aquinnah Cultural Center, the Yard, and Danza Orgánica. Tickets can be purchased at dancetheyard.org. For anyone who feels that ticket price is a barrier to entry, please join the Yard Access program, or email Yvonne Mendez at yvonnemendez@dancetheyard.org.