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UH dance concert is art that works


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POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's not the case at most colleges, but the University of Hawaii's annual dance concert is a showcase for traditional and modern choreography from East and West. Elsewhere, such eclecticism would likely trigger head-scratching from those who require a label such as ballet or jazz so that they would know how to respond.

               

     

 

MELDING STEPS

        University of Hawaii at Manoa students perform choreography by UHM faculty and guest artists in “;Roots and Offshoots”;
       

» Where: Kennedy Theatre

       

» When: 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

       

» Cost: $18 general; $16 for seniors, military and UH faculty/staff; $12 students; $5 UHM students with valid ID

       

» Call: 956-7655

       

 

       

For audiences in the state that gave our nation its first president of mixed ethnic descent, the melding of cultures—and even a little colliding now and then—is a natural outcome of everyday ethnic diversity. Applied to dance, diversity has the potential to illuminate a thoroughly enjoyable dance of life, measured by its own truth and not artsy stylistic conventions.

This year, UH's aptly named “;Roots and Offshoots”; delivers diversity with notably good results. The program opener, “;Dance, Do Not Cry Now,”; combines playful ballet and powerful modern movement in evoking charming imagery. The closing piece, “;Entangled Offshoots,”; also melds modern and tradition, though the tradition here is Japanese noh theater, and the effect is a provocative message about the colliding forces of urban life.

In between these stunning modern dance premieres, “;Roots and Offshoots”; lives up to its clever name with modern dance numbers, the witty and wry “;White Out”; and the dark and dramatic “;A Woman's Song,”; plus a kahiko hula, a kabuki piece and a 13th-century Korean court dance. The Korean dance, entitled “;Mugo,”; was first taught in Hawaii by the late Korean dance master Kim Chon-hung (to whom the dance concert is dedicated).

One captivating aspect of the mixed-plate program is the way it presents the human body through divergent cultural lenses. In the traditional Korean and Japanese pieces, the dancers glide with an ethereal and meditative presence; these dances also employ elaborate costuming, props and choreographic patterns that mirror form and structure in the natural environment. In line with the paradoxes of Eastern religion, the message is that the body moves in harmony with life as it pads through the illusory physical world.

By contrast, the modern numbers hearken to ballet's capacity for performing narratives that put mankind at the center of the universe, as masters of the Western Renaissance would have it. The bodies in these dances are quick studies in emotive and mercurial individualism.

AS MUCH AS the UH program defines boundaries between East and West, it wouldn't be worthy of the diversity designation if it didn't crisscross the rules of the same traditions it showcases. This is the joy of the last number, “;Entangled Offshoots,”; a dance that begins with a Buddhist sutra about disembodied souls struggling to shed human foibles and ends with office workers bound blindly together in the same struggle, albeit comically unaware that it is not monetary, but karmic debt that binds them on the stage of life. It is a modern dance about modern life, grounded in ancient Buddhist wisdom.

The UH dancers in “;Entangled Offshoots”; seemed to seize the opportunity to let go and live up to a physically demanding challenge. The pace of this number is riveting, making a case for those who say that good concert dance is transformative for performers and audiences alike.

It is also interesting to note that “;Entangled Offshoots”; choreographer Keiko Fujii took time off from her studio in Japan to spend a semester with the UH students. Diverse though our population is, diversity in the arts takes work to perpetuate.

But it's not only about diversity for diversity's sake. Rather, it's an opportunity to savor a twist on what Duke Ellington once said about the two kinds of art: the kind that works and the kind that doesn't.

“;Roots and Offshoots”; is dance art that works.