COURTESY OLIVER KONING
Willow Chang, center, offers her brand of dance plus an array of others, at "PUJA," Saturday and Sunday at Windward Community College.
Stretching past labels
A dance event at WCC explores a wide variety of cultures that boast exotic flair
It's not every day that you get to see Egyptian belly dancing, Brazilian swasthya yoga, tai chi, Okinawan dancing, Chinese qi gong, ballet, modern dancing, Indian Rajastani dancing AND a hot Argentine tango in a single performance. But after four years of brainstorming, local entertainer Willow Chang is finally making it happen this weekend at Windward Community College.
'PUJA: An Offering in Dance'
Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (meet-and-greets with performers follow on both days)
Tickets: $25 presale ($20 students and seniors) and $30 at the door ($25 students and seniors)
Call: 282-0820 or visit www.willowchang.com
"I really wanted to put together a dance concert on a Western stage," said Chang about "PUJA: An Offering in Dance." "For some people, it might be the only means to appreciate so-called ethnic styles of dance." In addition, most of the performers teach their specialties locally, so it's an opportunity to view - and later partake in - new art forms. And rethink familiar ones (yoga as a dance?).
Chang, who began her career as a hula dancer and now adds belly dancing and jazz singing to her list of talents, thinks "the terms 'ethnic' and 'cultural' tend to be loaded. For instance, break dancing is ethnic. We haven't quite found the right labels."
But labels aren't important here. The word "puja" means offering or blessing in Sanskrit, according to Chang, who selected it based on the hula tradition of using dance as an opportunity to share, which is exactly what these performers and teachers love to do.
Husband-and-wife team George and K'ai Garcia will spice up the stage with Argentine tango - much of it improvised. "It's the ultimate partner dance," said George Garcia. "It requires so much concentration. Some say it's like surfing a wave. Each one is different."
Elements of tango include the music, the woman/partner and the dance floor. "The man is the conductor and puts it all together," said Garcia, who performs all over the world and teaches a tango boot camp twice a year with his wife at the Honolulu Club. "Women are encouraged not to memorize patterns, but to understand balance and their response to the men." In other words, the learning curve is enormous.
"We have an intimate knowledge of the music, and the dance is like the unfolding of the story of a love relationship. The dance itself is a little mysterious. You never know which way it can go. There's a very human element."
In a less conventional part of the show, Guilherme Alves will demonstrate a series of swasthya yoga positions. "Most people are not aware that yoga can be choreographed and sequenced like a dance," Chang said of Alves. "He's taking it to another level so that people can see the diversity yoga can provide."
Alves, who hails from Brazil and teaches 18 classes a week between surfing sessions, said that yoga was originally created by a dancer. "The way we practice yoga is based on nature, and it's more like an art form than an exercise. I'm here to break a paradigm, to make people understand that yoga is something very different from what they think it is." He also hopes to introduce members of the audience to mental and emotional elements of yoga. "Once you understand it's a life philosophy, it improves anything you do. You become more conscious."
If Chang's mission is to make people contemplate the questions of "what is dance?" and "what is movement?", then Michael Hamilton also will spark those queries. Hamilton's performance includes a slow, silken qi gong, a fast-paced tai chi sword set, a Taijiquan (tai chi) dagger set with a single-edged curved sword, and a short demonstration of gung fu with a three-sectional pole (three sticks connected by a chain) that he moves with a rapid whipping motion.
If that isn't enough variety, Colleen Shakti, visiting from India, will perform classical Indian Odissi and Rajastani Gypsy dances - an opportunity Chang said is rare outside India.
With these and several other performers participating in the two-hour "puja," said Chang, "there are many things for many people."