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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
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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