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Arts students explore Santa Fe Railroad

SANTA FE, N.M. — Amble down near the water tower in the Railyard tonight, and you’ll discover 31 dancers re-creating the history of the Santa Fe Railroad.

Those dancers and 17 visual arts students from the New Mexico School for the Arts will perform “Rite of Way” near the Water Tower at 7 p.m. today and Saturday.

The students spent six months researching the subject before translating it into choreography and art for their annual “Inside/Out” presentation. Each year, the school asks its students to co-create a performance from a slice of New Mexico History. “Rite of Way” marks the school’s second annual community-centered performance

“What did the railroad bring to Santa Fe and what did it take away?” dance department chairman Adam McKinney asked the group.

Students started with the impact of the Fred Harvey Co. They explored the perceived exoticism of Santa Fe, brought about in part by the collaboration between the railroad and tourism. But the tourists who bought Native American gifts in this way may have left with an inaccurate perception of the area’s original residents, McKinney added.

“We’re re-assessing pieces that got lost because of industrialization,” he continued. “Our history might have gotten lost. Our land might have gotten lost.”

But the treatment isn’t all negative, McKinney emphasized.

“I don’t know that we as a state would be what we are without tourism.”

Projections on nearby building walls will feature archival footage of buffalo herds with more recent images of New Mexico landscapes. The music will be a mashup of snippets from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with original compositions by Native American composer Ehren Kee Natay. Natay was the designer of last year’s Santa Fe Indian Market T-shirts.

“It closes with Rosemary Clooney’s version of ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,'” McKinney said with a laugh.

NMSA students interviewed one surviving conductor and spoke with an expert from the Institute of American Indian Arts about Hopi women hired to work for Harvey.

The dance troupe will wear Viet Nam-era field jackets and red bandanas during the performance.

“One student said she feels like she is part of an army of dancers shedding light on important issues in our community,” McKinney said.

The event was designed to encourage students to take leadership roles in the artistic process, as well as to learn some New Mexico history.

“The thing I love about art is we can come up with creative solutions to our societal problems,” McKinney said.

The performance follows last year’s version of “Inside/Out,” which explored the history of the Cross of the Martyrs.

Admission is free.