Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 12, 1999

Photo by George Lee, Star-Bulletin

Spring Dance Concert
shows program’s diversity

By Vivien Lee
Special to the Star-Bulletin


AS usual, the annual University of Hawaii Spring Dance Concert has a little bit of everything and something for everyone: beautifully staged hula 'auana, light hearted humor, meaning-laden messages and some fine dancing by the students in the University of Hawaii at Manoa Dance Program. This year's concert features choreography by guest artists kumu hula Noenoelani Zuttermeister, Peter-Rockford Ututau Espiritu, and the internationally-known Kei Takei, as well as by faculty members Gregg Lizenbery, Peggy Gaither Adams and Betsy Fisher.

The concert opens with a visual treat by Zuttermeister. As the curtain opens, some of her hula students are on stage engaged in activities like lei making and lauhala weaving, while others stroll down the aisles offering fresh plumerias and warm smiles to the audience. The dancers were of all ages and ethnicities, all lei bedecked, barefoot and colorfully costumed. Twenty-five danced as one, graceful and poised. All that was lacking was live music. The lone nose flute player could not be heard above the taped singing and instruments. Otherwise, it was a delightful way to start the evening.

Espiritu used the hula dancers to segue into his "techno hula" dance, "Kikiao." His dancers wore what looked like ti leaf skirts and had cellophane fringes strapped diagonally across their chests. Each carried a ni'au broom, which was drawn in circles overhead, tapped on the floor, swished and pointed. The movement, accompanied by a pulsing rock score, was balletic, resulting in an odd juxtaposition of images.

I was puzzled about the meaning of Betsy Fisher's "Transit." Her use of Chinese folk music was intriguing, but the movement -- side to side hip swaying, running and lining up behind one another, and slow gestures reaching toward the audience -- seemed mechanical and I was unable to make any emotional connection to it.

In Lizenbery's piece, "Memory," five women in long white skirts are already moving when the curtain rises. The bright white spotlights and dramatic side lighting highlighted their swirling and flowing. The overall effect was one of a flock of doves suddenly flying up into the light.

"Touch Dance 2" by Adams, was a witty look at ballroom dancing, full of unexpected wiggles, undulations through the torso, body part isolations, quick weight shifts and precise timing. The original music by Byron Yasui was inseparable from the dancing. Dancers Summer Lam and Pete Ramos Jr. captured the playful, flirting relationship perfectly. Every movement was essential, nothing extra was thrown in to fill the time.

In contrast, Kei Takei's lengthy "Time Diary (Nakaniwa)" would greatly benefit by being cut in half. While each of the several distinct sections contained intriguing movement, startling images, and powerful dancing, repetition diluted the effect. For example, in one section, the 10 women threw themselves about, hair flying, pulling at their clothes, uttering groans and sounds of childbirth. Their energy was wonderful to feel, but after awhile, all I could see was a caricature of the "primitive wild woman." The oft-repeated pattern of slow motion alternating with frantic thrashing became predictable. One part, though, was simple but remarkable: all of the dancers were connected in an amorphous circle which stretched and contracted and pulsed with a life of its own. Individuals tried to pull away but were yanked back in. The dancers were at their best in this ensemble effort.

Vivian Lee has a master's degree in dance from
the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She teaches creative movement
and music in Hawaii elementary schools.

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