Some Tribes


It’s not just that all dances are too long, as Doris Humphrey said—sometimes there are too darn many of them. “The Elegance of Tap & The Comedy of Tap” (Town Hall) featured 15 acts, plus musical interludes and a shim-sham finale. Only an emcee like Bill Irwin (he didn’t win that “genius” award for nothing) could make you sit through the three-hour show and like it. Brazilian native Cintia Chamecki best personified the “elegance” of the evening, her feet tracing smooth, uncluttered rhythms to samba guitar and percussion. Irwin takes the cake for “comedy.” After much faux hesitation, he donned tap shoes—as well as knee guards and a safety harness—to play tap ingenue to Brenda Bufalino’s maestro. The two hoofers laid metal to the floor, echoing the signature rhythms of past tap greats in a moving tribute.

At the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers’ 37th Annual Concert and Pow-Wow (Theater for the New City) company director Louis Mofsie patiently introduced each of the program’s 20-odd dances, explaining the symbolism and history of the movements. The stamping feet of the Grass Dance, he said, derives from the way the Plains Indian men trampled tall prairie grasses to clear a campsite. I like knowing this, and that in the Iroquois Duck Dance the men playfully “trap” women with their sticks to represent their success at trapping ducks.

Unfortunately, Amy Cox & Dancers (Joyce Soho) had no host like Mofsie or Irwin to explain what was going on in Cox’s four intriguing but rambling works. Like members of some tribe, Cox, Phillip Karg, and Kristi Spessard wore peculiar headdresses in Vailala Madness. They kept shifting positions in seeming discomfort, and I couldn’t figure what was making them out of sorts or why they bent over and intensely regarded the empty space between their hands.

Jody Sperling

Robin Becker Dance’s recent collection, “The Subject Tonight Is Love” (Joyce Soho), drew from Rumi for inspiration, yet the spirit of this poet of divine and carnate intoxication made but a few cameo appearances (in the person of his noted translator Shahram Shiva). More than love, the subject was the spiritual resolution of grief, and grief is a tricky subject for art. Becker’s choreography gestured in the general direction of our heartstrings, but, overwrought and inarticulate when not simply obvious, it could not grab hold. How unlike Rumi, whose grasp is swift and sure. Happily, a team of consummate musicians and lovely dancers served Becker’s project well. Dancer Akiko Ko performed her own new Streams, a gentle, breeze-blown solo filled with clear poetry and delicacy of feeling.

Also at Joyce Soho, Andrea Mills and collaborators Eva Lawrence and Sarah Lewis—three eerie Graces amid birch logs and wheatgrass—presented Trilogy. Overlong, it’s nevertheless a powerful immersion in the brooding, generous energies of nature and of movement as nature.

Orphaned by AIDS, the Children of Uganda (Symphony Space) tour the U.S., giving the immense, too often remote African crisis a human face. As they raise money for kids’ survival and education, 18 remarkable dancers, musicians, and singers deliver some of the finest cultural performances I’ve seen. Children learn languages faster, more easily than adults: This troupe has a well-deserved reputation for quickly mastering choreography of exacting technical complexity and physicality, with oodles of theatrical presence. Everything about the show works—expert drumming, costuming, visual sensibility, even thorough program notes! I don’t have space here to praise their charming artistic director-narrator Frank Katoola enough.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa

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