Dancing with the so called dead

A month long festival of workshops and public conversation examining the intersections of performance making, spirituality, and mediumship

Guillermo Gómez-Peña's closing "Séance" at Dancing With The So Called Dead (2016). Photo by: Deridre Visser. 

Guillermo Gómez-Peña's closing "Séance" at Dancing With The So Called Dead (2016). Photo by: Deridre Visser. 

Inspired by, but not limited to, those research methods of spiritual inquiry understood as Spiritualism, our festival presented a month long series of public workshops, performances, and talks that examined the intersections of performance making and mediumship as active and political models of contemplative inquiry. We invited artists and scholars whose work uniquely mines the (im)materiality of performance through investigations of passing, loss, memory, mourning, death, and dedication. We saw these critical and artistic investigations as necessary and vital responses to the recent and devastating mass shootings in the US, the extrajudicial killings of Black lives by the police state, and the endless war across the Middle East. We were equally pressed to address our loss of alternative art venues, queer spaces, and affordable housing in light of cultural and market shifts in San Francisco. With so much loss, we asked: how might artistic practices that blend spirituality and contemporary performance help us navigate the barbarism of our time through an invocation of haunted stages, spirits, and the so called dead?

California Institute of Integral Studies | MFA Theater and Performance Making Program | October 2016

Curated and Organized by Ryan Tacata and Erika Chong Shuch


Peggy Phelan (Keynote)

The Alterity of the Almost Dead

From death row to hospital wards, contemporary life has created an architectural, political, and conceptual space for “the almost dead.” Yet, in an ontological sense, the category of the almost dead is much wider. Why, then, do we work to remove it from our own self-conception? What role does contemporary art play, if any, in challenging and/or accepting this habit of getting death to others? This talk, while informed by critical theory, is personal. I hope to dance with, if not fully inhabit, the almost dead within me and within the genre of the live presentation.



This Curious Workshop, led by artistic directors Leslie Hill and Helen Paris explores the transformative power and shapeshifting quality of objects and the potency that they can have in live performance. Participants will play with the elision of ‘the exquisite’ and ‘the mundane’.


Sean San Jose 

Living With Ghosts in Your Barrio

This workshop will be an intensive, compressed chapter of work Sean San José teaches and has developed within the group Campo Santo. This workshop employs techniques used in generating ideas for creating new performance works. Though rooted in performance tools, we will be engaging in a lot of in-workshop writing and immediate responding and creation. The theme of the work will focus on the world around you- starting from the personal and working our way to the living world outside. We will contemplate our neighborhoods and the histories of these places, from the architectural to the cultural, the demographic to the geographic. Where do our ghosts live in our barrios, our cities, our memories, our lives? How do we listen to them? We will explore ways to respond and generate material from those ghosts that come with us from our mother country, our mothers, our mother’s mothers, and in our living and unearthed memories.


Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Seance and Workshop

An immersive workshop on performance and the body as a site for imagination, reinvention, activism and radical spirituality, culminating in the creation of a performative human altar referencing the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos; an altar to the fallen diva of the United States that utilizes an aesthetic outside what we often associate with Dia de los Muertos (something more along the lines of pop culture meets decay.)



Conjure Art 101: Mining the Guiding Spirit in Performing Art Practices

Is there a spirit or soul that guides your creative practice? If so, how do you identify that spirit and how do we propitiate these spirits to maintain harmony in our practice? When and how do we create boundaries with the spirit realm, when do we submit, and how do we address our own cultural authenticity and appropriation when working with systems outside of our own ancestral lineage? In Conjure Art 101, Amara Tabor-Smith guides workshop participants through her creative practice of Conjure Art - art making at the crossroads of spirit, art, and activism. Participants will engage in an embodied process of channeling their creative spirit guides through ritual and artistic practices, including durational movement, sound making, drawing, and writing. Drawing from Yoruba-Lukumí spiritual practices of calling forward ancestor spirits, we will engage in a process of connecting to those creative spirit guides that steer both our larger practices and specific projects. Note: You may experience altered states and be assisted by people you may not know.  No previous belief in god or spirit necessary, just a willingness to go on a journey.


Dohee Lee


Pulling from Dohee’s practice in Korean Shamanism and performative ritual, this workshop focuses on techniques that connect voice, body and spirit. Through breath and rhythm, we tune our body instrument and free our voices to explore sounds, songs, and movement. Explore sound through Dohee Lee’s expansive range of vocal techniques along with rhythms to create a mystical and universal language. This workshop expands participants’ vocabularies of feelings, energies, memories and stories, from current to past ancestry time, which merge together and create a new art.