Actors warn against sharing stages with children and animals; such unfettered spirits steal attention from mere professionals. To that caveat I’d add amateurs, common on local stages as enthusiasm for the arts is stoked in communities by resident companies and choreographers.
At La MaMa, H.T. Chen offered Bian Dan, combining his troupe of eight, five live musicians, and groups of children, teens, and older women drawn from his classes in Chinatown. Bradley Kauss’s percussive commissioned score nearly stole the show, overwhelming attempts by the dancers to be expressive while manipulating bamboo poles. But the true theft was committed by the kids and seniors, whose steady focus and commitment to their tasks looked infinitely more interesting than the conventional modern dancing.
Sonny Ching, a popular Hawaiian performer, teacher, and cultural activist, brought to Carnegie Hall a huge group of students from the hula school Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu in Ho’oulu I Ka Na’auao, which means “to grow in wisdom.” Ranging from teens to dignified seniors, the dancers animated what was essentially a documentary on 300 years of cultural politics in Hawaii. From intensely rhythmic dance, chanting, slides, video, song, and story, Ching and his associates rendered a world now lost, accounted for its destruction, and demonstrated how ancient hula and the chants that attend it are being retrieved and practiced today. The anemic hula staged for tourists, derived from the bowdlerized version of the form imposed by missionaries, contrasts dramatically with its vital religious roots in creation myths and convictions about mutual custody of the land. More compelling than Riverdance, this show deserves a run at Radio City Music Hall.