BWW Review: LIVING OUR MYTHOLOGIES: DIVINITY IN DANCE Presents Sacred Dances from a Myriad of Cultures
On Saturday, June 17th the IndoRican Multicultural Dance Project and Tandava Arts presented Living Our Mythologies: Divinity in Dance-a colorful showcase of sacred dances from a myriad of cultures-at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Theater.
First in the lineup was Fancy Dancing, a traditional ritual piece from the Pocas Tribe, which is loosely based on earlier warrior dances. The brightly-hued and lavishly adorned Luis Ramos embodied ancestral hymns through energetic yet minimalistic footwork and percussion, in a lengthy sequence that spoke to the endurance of the dancer.
Sufi Bossanova was initiated with a whirling solo by Julia Kulakova. The piece fused feminine grace with the admirable stamina of a traditional Dervish into an artistic interpretation of Sema-a form of moving meditation. The second half featured three women performing a fairly standard "belly dance" veil piece to Nitin Sawhney's "Moonrise". Sung in Portuguese and Arabic, the song offered some explanation for the title Sufi Bossanova. The dancing, lofty and elegant as it was, surprisingly didn't feature anything that was recognizably Brazilian, making the song a lovely but curious choice.
Fimmene Fimmene brought us into the world of Tarantella, Italian trance dances and remnants of earlier Dionysian rituals, that are used to heal Tarantismo-an alleged disease that is likely "the result of repression of sexuality, exploitation by landowners and a sad life that made women feel stuck in a spider web" according to choreographer Alessandra Belloni. Lively steps, suggestive floorwork and acrobatic inversions were adroitly executed by the convincingly ecstatic Francesca Silvano, making Fimmene Fimmene a truly enjoyable piece.
The poetic soul of Kaitlin Hines was brought to the stage in Rapture, a contemporary-dance-saturated reimagining of the Zar ritual found throughout Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Arabia, Sudan and southern Iran with roots that are generally linked to Ethiopia. Similar to Tarantella, Zar is a way for women to find spiritual and/or psychological liberation from oppression. Beautifully choreographed by Hines and her group RAQS UNCOMMON, Rapture summons an air of reverence and mysticism that feels legitimate. Seeing the usually-private Zar ritual put on display as a "dance performance" in the West would normally cause my red flags to go up, particularly when no women of color are involved. However, I felt this interpretation did justice to the spirit of the dance thanks to its considerable artistic merits.
If any performance embodied "the spirit" and amplified it in the theater it was Otea Maka, Taura O Te Here and Otea Moena performed by Lei Pasifika and choreographed by Makalina and Carol Leogite, Mahealani Uchiyama and Moena Maiotui respectively. Filled with joyful shrieks and chirps, vigorous hip circles and accents and a rainbow of costumes, this triptych of dances was an unapologetic celebration of female energy and emotion. You could not tell the audience that they were not basking in the rays of the Tahitian sun (thanks, in part, to good lighting) or that the women's fluid arm movements could not control the waves of the ocean. In my opinion, Otea Maka, Taura O Te Here and Otea Moena was the highlight of the evening.
The second half of the show was dedicated to Taino Reign, performed by the IndoRican Multicultural Dance Project and choreographed by Teresa Cuevas. Described as a "creation legend" of the Taino people, I expected to see a story revolving around the creation Goddess Atabey or another representation of the spirituality unique to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough, the piece was more historically-inspired realism.
Certainly the most narrative and ambitious piece of the night, Taino Reign was an imagining of what indigenous life in Puerto Rico might have been like before it was colonized and made an effort to convey the trauma induced by the introduction of European imperialism and slavery (noble goals indeed.)
At times, though, opportunities to create highly emotional or provocative experiences for the audience felt lost in clunky execution. While all the dancers were hardworking, recurring instances of overacting felt more like a distraction than genuine feeling and the depictions of pre-colonial village life came across as somewhat stereotypical. This made it a bit difficult to develop an emotional attachment to the characters. When, for example, a conquistador kills one of the tribeswomen, my reaction wasn't as strong as it could've been, nor as strong as I wanted it to be.
An instance of an indigenous woman finding a slave woman bound by rope resulted in them dancing at each other for an extended amount of time. This may have worked well in a dance less tied to literalism. However, here it felt awkward that there wasn't a real attempt to free the slave. Even an attempt filled with artistic flourish would've felt more appropriate.
By the end of the piece, the evil conquistador was chased away by the clan of women; a nice bowtie for a happy ending. However, most people know this is not representative of how history actually played out, which creates a sense of disconnection. I don't think a "sad" or "bad" ending was necessarily needed but an acknowledgment of complexity might've been a more successful way to create an impact.
All that said, the shining merit of the piece is its tremendous potential. The dancers have obvious strength and skill and enough cannot be said of the choreographer's ambition. The creative mission, Cuevas' took upon herself, was certainly not an easy one and I look forward to seeing Taino Reign evolve. The fundamental elements of a poignant masterwork are already present.
Photo: Michael Ortiz