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.

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