Storyteller Dana Sherry writes about her own journey:
My love affair with Eurasia began in 1989, when chance brought me to a Russian language class on my second day of college. It would lead me to years living in the former Eastern Bloc: in various Russian cities, Warsaw, Budapest, and finally Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia that has become my second home. Along the way, I picked up a variety of languages and a variety of academic degrees, finally completing a Ph.D. in history in 2007, with a focus on Russian rule of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
I discovered storytelling soon after, when I wandered into a local story swap in 2010. Once again, I was love struck. It took some time to realize that my two passions could come together, and I was extremely fortunate to reconnect with Kazakh anthropologist and culture bearer Alma Kunanbaeva in 2013. With Alma’s blessing, I established the Caravan of Stories, a storytelling program dedicated to the traditional tales of Central Asia, under the auspices of her cultural center, the Silk Road House in Berkeley. Alma has been an incredible mentor to me, sharing her deep personal and scholarly knowledge of Kazakh traditional culture, and I am profoundly indebted to her for opening this world to me and bringing a depth to my understanding of Kazakh folktales that I could never have gained alone. This perspective infuses my performances, and I have also been working with Georgian scholars and culture bearers to understand Georgian tales on a similar level.
Although I am not a bearer of a Central Asian culture, I am a passionate advocate for the importance of seeing traditional stories as expressions of local culture. I believe stories come to life most when we are attentive to the cultural world from which they come, and leave a space for dialogue between traditional values and our own point of view. I strive to tell stories authentically, which means holding awareness of who I am as a person and as a performer, and being as attuned as possible to the cultural world from which the stories came.
The Caravan of Stories has also brought together the local community of traditional storytellers, and I am constantly grateful for and humbled by the generosity with which both local and national tellers have supported us. Who would have thought a series dedicated to the tales of such a distant and overlooked region would last this long or achieve such success: Over the last two years, our stories-and-music concerts have typically drawn a hundred people, a far cry from the four who came to our first evening concert (and that includes my own two children!).
Music and stories flow together beautifully, and music inspires me to seek the transcendental aspects of the stories I tell. WomenSing's songs of “Tales from the Caravan” shed beautiful light on the migrant experience, moving from longing to joy to love, emotions that we all experience and bringing them into sharp relief. Listening to them, I hear echoes of Rumi’s words, “We have fallen into the place, where everything is music.”