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Biography

Sam Kerson is the founder of the non-profit organization

Dragon Dance Theatre, exploring visual and performing arts since 1976. 

Dragon Dance is now Non-Governmental Organization accredited to provide advisory services to the UNESCO Committee that oversees the Preservation of Intangible cultural heritage

Sam Kerson was born in North Adams, Mass. in 1946.  He is a Leo. His parents were Jacke Kerson and Muriel French. Sam left North Adams when he was 17, in November 1963, to experience the US Navy, a misadventure that went on for four years, including being present in the eastern Mediterranean for the disastrous, so called, “Six-day War” ...

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Sam's story

Sam used the GI bill to go to college and studied at Berkshire Community College, especially English Literature with Clara Park and Richard Bannister.  He was very active as a student and organized the student paper which he edited, as well as a soccer team and made his first theatre production for the commencement event in 1968; the piece was called Red Tape.

     In ‘69 Sam went to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont where he was a member of the student council. There, he studied Performance with Marc Estrin in California for 6 months in 1970. This period included a one month workshop in San Francisco with the Dancer’s Workshop and Anna Halprin. This first great art adventure, fighting against the Vietnam War in California with a collective of young people, inspired many later adventures and was remembered by Sam in his novel The Awakening of Baxter Bagley.

     After college, Sam went to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, a change of course that would affect all of his future art efforts. He began to learn Spanish and to understand the real cultural dimensions of the Americas thanks to the people of Zinacantan and Chamula.

     Sam’s passion for Latin America continued to expand as he walked over the earth visiting the ancient sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

     It was in Peru that Kerson and Norman Briski first met. Norman had just been banished, he would be out of Argentina for 13 years. Sam was exploring the famous old city of Cuzco where Norman was living in exile. By chance they both spent the winter there and they used the time to get to know each other.

     In ’76 Sam was instrumental in founding Dragon Dance Theatre. He was and continues to be artistic director of the company. Once it was established, Norman Briski was able to come to Vermont and teach his ideas about collective creation, which come from the Argentine theatre tradition. Sam has used these ideas during the Dragon Dance Theatre’s entire history.

     In the early 80’s Sam met Robert Fisher, who was also a Goddard alum and had studied Abstract Expressionism with Hans Hoffmann.  Sam learned much about visual arts from Robert. The two were friends and neighbors and drew the same models for thirty years until Robert’s death in 2007. More of this story  is told in Sam’s biography of Robert Fisher, Still Lifes and Street Angels.

     Later during  the 80’s Sam took his Dragon Dance idea to Nicaragua and thereafter went once a year with a cultural exchange project to Managua or Masaya, until the Sandinistas lost the elections in ‘91. It was from this experience that Sam began studying murals in Mexico city. Spurred by an invitation, Sam began painting murals; Todo Sera Mejor in Masaya and later in Vermont, Armed Men at the Gates of Paradise and The Underground Railroad Vermont and the Fugitive Slave, in South Royalton at the Vermont Law school.  Sam’s books, Brigadistas and Green Turtle Soup, in which the Goddard art teacher Roy Levin plays an important part, tell much about these mural experiences.

     During the nineties Sam directed the great performances of Sol y Luna at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, in collaboration with Louis Cervantes of the theatre group Comparsa and Roberto Villaseñor director of Culturas Populares. This work led to the Pan American Puppetry Arts Institute, a Dragon Dance project, which organized international cultural exchange residencies in Nicaragua, Mexico and Vermont until 2000.

     At the time of the 9/11, the US disaster  of the Twin Towers in 2001, Sam was directing cultural exchange projects in Mexico;  Dia de los Muertos in Queretaro, a giant mask making project in Puebla and a number of productions with the Museo Historico in Jalpan de Serra, in the Sierra Gorda. 

     Early in 2000, Sam met and married the Quebecoise agronomist and artist Katah, and the base of the theatre moved from Vermont to Quebec. In the coming years Sam would direct, and Katah would produce theatre projects in Finland, Slovakia, France, Germany and Italy.  The purpose of these projects was to generate shows related to agricultural seen from the view of pre-christian Goddesses, Demeter was a favorite. They also dramatized early stories such as Erisychthon recounted  by Ovid or Psyche and Cupid as related by Apuleius.

     Sam and Katah also undertook investigations of human migration in Europe,  they called their project, Artists as Witness. Some of their experiences are shared in Chronicles of Lesvos.  Also  based on their experience with immigrants in Europe, and currently in production is the artist book, Exodus which they expect to release in late 2023.

     In 2010  the two began living in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.  Sam and Katah opened a Dragon Dance print-shop known as Katah’s Atelier du Livre. Sam and Katah joined in creative partnership, their work took a distinct turn towards artist’s books; Persephone Entre deux Mondes, Lemminkainen in Tuonela, Hiroshima to Fukushima are examples. Further, they began to publish narrative paperback books, biographies, novels as well as plays from the theatre. In particular, they produced together, graphic arts books on subjects like the death penalty, the ongoing war in Palestine,  our shared nuclear history, and  the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca. Most recently, they finished making, Stop Bombing Ukraine, a portfolio of 25 large graphic images from the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

     Dragon Dance continues to engage in theatre productions, especially in Finland and at Muse en Goguette near Toulouse, France. In collaboration with Anais Barrachina, we produced  Persephone as a Nuclear Nightmare in 2017.  In 2019 We created and performed Cry of the Bird in Finland with Anna-Kaisa Jarvi and later in the summer re-created the show at Muse en Goguette in France. In 2022 we produced and performed Moon of the Mammoths in Ii Finland With Bernardo Olmedo, Victor Huizar and Elizabeth Torres, co-produced by Anna-Kaisa Jarvi with the Stone Age Museum at Kirrikki.
     
     Sam and Katah continue to collaborate and co-create under the banner of Dragon Dance Theatre, as a theatre, as book makers, as writers and as visual and performing artists.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
S and K in TR, 2023

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