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Dance : Clash of Styles on Stage at 'Kaleidoscope '94' Finale

August 08, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE WRITER

On Elephanta Island, not far from Bombay, India, you can see a monumental cave-sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva. Divided vertically, the figure is half-male, half-female, symbolizing the fusion of opposites in something like the perfect marriage.

Dancing side by side, arms tightly around one another's waists, Ramaa and Swetha-Lakshmi Bharadvaj brought this classic vision to the stage of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday as part of the final program in the annual "Dance Kaleidoscope" series.

Co-choreographed by Ramaa Bharadvaj and Uma Suresh, their remarkable "Ardhanariswara" duet incorporated dramatic gesture and percussive footwork in South Indian Bharata Natyam style--conditioned by the need to move gracefully as one, to achieve the artistic fusion that can take dance metaphor into the realm of the spiritual.

Their success crowned a curious world dance potpourri marked by other prominent dualities: clashing dualities, however, in nearly every other instance. Consider the two Filipino American and two Mexican American companies on the bill:

In an uncredited, passably executed Maranaw suite that could have been titled "The Dance of the Thousand Sequins," Kultura Philippine Folk Arts trivialized a great culture by emphasizing glitz and empty display. But Kayamanan Ng Lahi--Philippine Performing Arts honored that same culture with artful Igorot folk dances anchored in daily work activities and human relationships.

The same musicians participated in each, but switched off the amplification for the latter so that their gongs reverberated sweetly in the warm night air and an Igorot song drifted magically down from the hillside as 11 women descended to the stage balancing large baskets on their heads.

The dignity of those women remained unshakable even when the volatile, flamboyant males swirled around them during the final moments of Ramon Obusan's four-part suite--giving the outsider some sense of the values of these people quite apart from the entertainment value of their performance.

Even with tubby, canned accompaniment blasting from the loudspeakers, Ballet Folklorico del Sur de California sustained a mood of easygoing tropical conviviality during Deanna Venegas' selection of dances from the Mexican state of Campeche.

Moreover, the unison footwork in the final "Los Almudes" section (with a dozen dancers atop small wooden boxes) displayed a level of technical prowess that Ballet Folklorico del Pacifico couldn't match in its adaptation of a Mayan dance drama originally choreographed by Amalia Hernandez.

Just like Kultura in its Maranaw suite, Jose Vences and Adriana Astorga-Gainey aimed for a kind of mythic grandeur in their budget knockoff of Hernandez's showpiece, but the result looked cheap and fake despite the best efforts of a large, hard-working cast.

*

Presenting an entirely different selection of music and dance from Hawaii and Tahiti than was listed in the "Dance Kaleidoscope" program booklet, the large, aggressive Keali'i O Nalani company stripped Polynesian performance to basic moves and rhythms: folk dance without any taint of folklore left in it.

Besides launching a drill-team hula and a military-parade ote'a (both projected with excellent technique and relentless painted smiles), director Keali'i Ceballos offered the audience such explanatory insights as, "We close with our finale."

And not a moment too soon. Keali'i O Nalani, Kultura and Ballet Folklorico del Pacifico all aim to showcase traditional cultures in the glossy, professionalized and sometimes soulless styles of the official national touring ensembles that turn up semiannually in our culture palaces.

They ask nothing from the audience, retail plenty of exotic local color along with the dancers' energy and physical beauty. But the danger is their capitulation to contemporary show-biz values. Broadway pizazz. Hollywood spectacle. MTV flash. The best concert dance always goes deeper than this. Why not the best concert folk or world dance?

Equally modern in its values, Sen-Hea Ha's meditative "Cho-Sin" managed to look back at Korean shamanistic traditions and fashion an homage to them without belittling the source.

Maybe there were too many changes of musical context, too much reliance on fan-and-flag effects. But, danced with refinement and concentration, the solo forged an imaginative connection between the world that Sen-Hea Ha now inhabits and a world in which dance can be a bridge between spheres of existence.

Liliana de Leon also invoked dance transcendence when holding a man's hat as if it were a living partner in her uneven flamenco "Garrotin." But only Sen-Hea Ha made it indispensable, insisting on it, glorying in it, when so many others on the program had rigorously weeded it out.

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