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Forging friendships, step by step

July 02, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Normally, we think of cultural exchange in terms of nations, but a program titled "Celebrating Cultures, Forging Friendships" showed Friday how productive the concept can be when it involves people who share the same city -- our city.

The Korean and African American cultural centers jointly sponsored the event, not only showcasing performance traditions but also opening the door to greater communication and trust between L.A. communities that have not always lived together without friction.

In the intimate auditorium of the Korean Cultural Center, the emphasis on massed percussion became a mite overwhelming in the skillful, energetic performances of the Ko Sue Hee Korean Traditional Dance Institute and the Teye Sa Thiosanne African Drum and Dance Company. And though the dancers gamely traded steps for a few minutes in the finale, there was no attempt at the kind of drum dialogue that might have made the evening as adventuresome in artistry as it was in community relations.

As directed by Sue Hee Ko, elegant court traditions dominated the Korean repertory, with gliding steps and a floating upper body making the company women look weightless. An approximation of a farmers' dance represented that nation's earthier folk heritage.

West Africa proved the focus of the Teye Sa Thiosanne pieces, with four male drummers setting up call-and-response vocal patterns with four female dancers. Directors Aminisha Tambuzi and Bernard "Yiriba" Thomas emphasized speed, vigor and a dazzling array of drum sizes and types, many worn or carried.

Both troupes had expanded roles for women, compared with the norm in their source cultures, and both fielded stellar soloists but failed to credit them in the program data. For instance, Chae Woo Rhim's drum solo had not only spectacular dexterity (common enough Friday) but also a kind of puckish wit (definitely uncommon). Moreover, Niancho Sanneh's phenomenal gymnastics and sense of high occasion added immeasurably to the African festivities.

A masked stilt dancer identified only as "Nyon Kwoya" (not a name so much as a designation of his societal role) managed to execute high-velocity steps on the highly polished stage floor, even when hemmed in by other performers -- a testament to faith as well as prowess.

Traditional African or Korean attire was requested, so the audience proved quite a show in itself -- and a tasty bicultural buffet further expanded the sense of cross-cultural sharing.

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