At its birth nine years ago, American Indian Dance Theatre resembled the long-established Moiseyev, Bayanihan, Ballets Africains and Ballet Folklorico companies in its emphasis on variety. Like those pioneer predecessors, it offered an array of theatricalized regional suites: ethnic vaudeville, strongly performed.
Increasingly, however, its programs have focused on a visionary pan-Indian identity more than the histories and traditions that make each tribe unique.
Seen at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, the company's latest program offers only one regional suite: six charming social dances from the Eastern Woodlands. Otherwise, traditional sources are radically recontextualized. For instance, the Solo Suite of Seven Plains and Pow-Wow Dances is arranged as a living timeline stretching from the fabled past to a present in which the splendor of feathers and fringe may be gone but the core of Indian dance remains powerful.
The opening of Act 1 introduces a shaman (Marty Pinnecoose, replacing Saginaw Grant) experiencing nature in all its richness, then calling forth dances of celebration that are drawn mostly from Southwestern cultures, depicting eagle, deer and buffalo, plus ritual passages for dancers-as-people. Titled "Honoring Time: A Dance Ceremony," this complex suite can be interpreted as an evolution cycle or as a romantic statement of oneness with nature.