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Flash Review 1, 3-6: Making it Concert-worthy
Thunderbirds Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

By Tamieca McCloud
Copyright 2001 Tamieca McCloud

Friday night I headed over to the Theater for the New City with a friend to see the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers. We got to the box office and the person at the booth could barely understand me, nor I her, and could not find my reservation (I found it for her). My friend and I took our seats just before the program began, and the foul-smelling man seated behind us felt compelled to tell us that he doesn't like white people -- my friend is white. It was too late to move, though, because the performance had just begun and we would have disturbed a lot of people had we done so. Was I having fun yet?

As I sat watching the first half of the Thunderbird concert, my mind kept wandering. I kept thinking of the many times I'd seen advertisements for their performances over the years and had wanted to attend, but for some reason or another never made it to a show; I thought of the Lakota American Indian Dance Company -- and how much I'd enjoyed their concert; I thought of how I'd never walked out on a performance before -- how I'd never written a "bad" review; and I thought a lot of how I wanted to turn in my seat and hit that very same man seated behind us -- who was now not only polluting my air, but was also whistling (during the narratives, where the dances were being introduced) and stomping his feet so that our seats shook. I settled for a few sidelong glares.... He was a big man.

Now, I was thinking about all of these things and not of the performance -- because I was not enjoying the performance. That bothered me -- a lot, because I had been waiting a few years to get the opportunity to see this company perform.

Of all the things I thought about, the most important in relation to this concert was the lesson on the different "types" of dance, which I used to teach my high school students. You know: How there are dances created specifically for an audience and those that are not intended as such -- social dances and dances that are for ceremony or ritual (I can't find the lesson plan at the moment, but I'm sure you get the sense of it). Anyway, there are also those dances which have over the years successfully crossed over. Now, you don't just put a "Caribou Dance" or a "Hamatsa and Cannibal Birds" dance on stage without making some adjustments for the fact that you now have an "audience." Sometimes amendments have to be made -- for example, who of your group will best perform these dances; who has a good stage presence; and who will not laugh throughout their performance. That, put simply, was my problem with Friday night's performance. These dances were performed (and the dancers performed) as if they were being shown in a workshop, not as if they were in a theater.

If I hadn't seen the wonderful job Lakota does with a similar type of program, I might not have been so affected. But I have seen many folk and social dances performed on stage successfully -- and have come to expect the same quality of performance that I would hope to see in any other dance company. The Thunderbird concert felt more like watching the performance at the end of a workshop -- a recital. That might have been fine, if it was what I had expected -- but it wasn't. I expected more from a company that has been around since 1963 and has toured internationally.

I will say that the second half of the show, the Plains "Pow-Wow" dances, were much more enjoyable. Still rather unpolished (again, that woman laughing throughout one of the dances was rather distracting), but being dances intended to impress -- they had a different effect.

I'm glad the Thunderbirds have existed for such a good many years. I am most impressed that their performances raise much-needed funds for the education of young Native Americans. What I ask of them is that they take a more critical approach in the preparation of their concerts.

The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers performed at the Theater for the New City, for the last two weekends.


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