Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre - A Review

In all honesty, I really had no idea what to expect last night from the Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre. What I ended up seeing was equal parts history lesson, religion, music, and dance.

Giving a review on this performance is difficult. Not so much because I don’t know what to say or where to start or what to mention, but because so much of the performance was so much more than just a performance. It was a small glimpse into the culture of people. Like any performance, when a “number” was finished the audience would applaud. However, there were times when I felt I shouldn’t be clapping because it somehow lessened what the dancers/singers had done. I don’t know… it’s hard to describe. Maybe it was just me. The performance was something different from anything else I’ve seen, and it seemed so much more than just a “show.” And I don’t mean that to be taken as a negative by any means. It stems purely from respect.

All that being said, to quote my nine-year-old son, “That show was so cool!”

The performance was broken into two parts. Part 1 being “Birth of A Nation: Creation Story” and Part 2 “Death and Rebirth of A Nation.” A brief narrative, said over the sounds of rather hypnotic flute, began the performance. From that point forward it was dance after dance to rhythmic drums and traditional singing.
(Quick side note: I can’t begin to fathom the size of the lungs singers Gerimiah Holy Bull and Adrian Cross have! Throughout the entire show, those two singers kept up a constant stream of singing with practically no rest… especially Gerimiah Holy Bull who moved back and forth between singing and dancing. Both were very impressive.)

The costumes filled the stage with color in nearly every dance. And when the color wasn’t there, it was replaced by functionality or just plain ol’ cool design, such as in the Eagle Dance where a lone dancer was fitted with the “wings of an eagle.” At first glance, the costumes seem random, almost haphazardly put together. As the dancers move about it is easy to see that each piece was designed for great visual effect.

For the most part, the music consisted of a drumbeat and singers performing what could best be described by this culturally-challenged person, as the basic “chanting” song style often associated with Native American cultures. The rhythm was easy to fall into, and many audience members could be seen bouncing a foot, head or torso to the steady beat. During narratives and the “Flute Song – Kahomine” a flute was also brought into play that was equally as melodic.

Some of the most powerful music and dancing came just before intermission in what I believe was the “Inter-Tribal Dance.” The numerous dancers flying around the stage were lit from the floor, projecting large shadows onto a white screen behind them. On that same white screen, video played of dancers as well (I believe they were doing the same dance). The combination of dancers, their shadows, and the video gave the feeling of dozens of men and women performing all at once. Combined with the steadily increasing speed of the drumbeat, the dance, and Part 1 of the show, came to a rather climatic finish.

My son really enjoyed the “Shield and Spear Dance.” Probably because shields and spears were involved, but also because, in his words, he liked how they “pretend fought and challenged each other.” I have to admit I agree with him. Maybe it’s a guy thing.

The performance was not without its issues, mostly of the technical kind. Too often the lighting seemed misaligned or would shut off completely, and a microphone cut out during one of the narratives. I also suspect some video didn’t make it to big screen. The performers did well to ignore the technical glitches and keep the show moving as planned. No small feat.

The only area I think the Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre could improve is in the realm of information. Helping the audience understand what is happening on stage would be a relatively easy, but significant improvement. More often than not, a dance was started but never introduced. Some were preceded by a brief narrative, but most were not. It would have been nice to know exactly what dance was being performed. A simple name projected onto the video screen would have been enough.

Taking it a small step further… the reasoning or purpose behind the dances would have been interesting too. Why were these dances performed? When? By who? (I would love to know the significance of the Hoop Dance and the aforementioned “Shield and Spear Dance.”) Of course, all the info I’m suggesting could easily move the show closer to a lecture than theater, and maintaining any type of flow would be difficult. But I think it could be done and this cultural presentation would benefit from it.

All in all, the issues I mention about the performance are extremely minor. I think addressing them would make a good show even better, but leaving things as is, still allows for engaging and well worthwhile entertainment.

Throughout this review I have used words like “show,” “performance” and “entertainment.” None of those words capture what the Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre does. It was more than just a show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Ultimately, a people provided an audience with a small window to their culture. My son and I were lucky enough to be a part of it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

American Legacies: Review

It all started with the toes.  They would slowly tap along with the music respectfully, being sure not to get out of hand (after all this is the Fox Cities P.A.C.).  Then the knee and the rest of the leg would join the beat, moving up and down, getting stronger with every note. Your hand couldn't help but take part in the action. They would slap the knee that was already in motion, forming a cymbal type effect. Before you knew what hit you the head bob started, almost on it's own. Nodding in agreement to every beat. Then you just sat back and let the music take you wherever it wanted to. 

That is what I experienced last night at "American Legacies."  My hands hurt at the end because we clapped so often for so many reasons. For solo performances, to keep with the beat, and sometimes because I just couldn't help myself. I found it incredibly difficult to stay in my seat. Our row of seats were moving so much I thought the supports below us were going to snap off, but that would've just given us a reason to stand up and dance. 

Finally when the encore came we got our chance to dance around the theater (and out to the lobby, I might add) to "When the Saints Go Marching In."  It was perfect timing. My feet were ready for dancing and my hands were still clapping, so we joined the procession and finished the night with smiles on our faces.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Broadway Buzz: April Openings

With so many Broadway openings this spring, there is surely something for everyone. I am personally a musical fan, and there are many titles that I would jump at the chance to see. Classic, provocative, heartwarming, comedic – the wide variety of new shows prove that there is never a dull moment in the bright lights of Broadway.

Anything Goes – Opened: April 7 
A new production of an old favorite, Anything Goes is taking the S.S. American back out to sea, complete with a crew of singing sailors! Sutton Foster stars opposite Joel Grey (who is also busy directing The Normal Heartopening this spring). Word has it you’ll get a kick out of the show. See what USA Today and Theatermania.comsaid in their reviews.
Catch Me If You Can – Opened: April 10 
Is the title ringing any bells? Catch Me If You Can is based on the hit DreamWorks film and incredible true story. Norbert Leo Butz (WICKED) stars as FBI agent Carl Hanratty who is trying to track down Frank Abagnale, Jr., a runaway teen who successfully poses as a pilot, doctor and lawyer, played by Aaron Tviet. I loved the book and have seen the movie, now I think it’s time to add the Broadway show to my must-see list.
War Horse – Opened: April 14 
New to Broadway after great success in London, War Horse shares the story of a young man trying to find his childhood friend, Joey the horse. Short of casting Mr. Ed, I wasn’t sure how a horse could be depicted onstage.The horses used in the show are actually intricate lifelike puppets crafted of lightweight cane, aluminum, leather and mesh brought to life by 18 expert puppeteers. The puppets breathe, can carry a rider, and could even nuzzle you for a carrot. Meet Joey as Broadway.com goes behind the scenes of War Horse.
Sister Act – Opens: April 20 
What’s not to love about dancing nuns and disco? Whoopi Goldberg is bringing Sister Act back – this time as a Broadway producer. Based on the 1992 comedy, the stage production features the same story with a brand new score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. Broadway.com went behind the scenes with cast and creative of the divine musical comedy.

Additional Shows Opening this April 
The Motherf**ker With the Hat starring Chris Rock – Opened: April 11 

Wonderland – A New Alice
 – Opens: April 17 

 – Opens: April 19
Jerusalem – Opens: April 21
Born Yesterday – Opens: April 24
The House of Blue Leaves starring Ben Stiller– Opens: April 25
The Normal Heart – Opens: April 27
The People in the Picture – Opens: April 28
Baby It’s You! – Opens: April 27
Which of these titles seem award-worthy? The past year’s favorites may be receiving Tony Award® nominations in a few weeks. Check back for Tony Award® news in the next Broadway Buzz. Keep your fingers crossed for Lombardi!