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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 8, 2004

Diversity rules at 'Footholds'

By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser

Politicians and purists, beware. A small troupe of dancers is defying tradition and flagrantly displaying a tendency toward international understanding and tolerance.

It's the University of Hawai'i Dance Ensemble, a small company of student dancers who perform for the community throughout the year, bringing a repertory of diverse dances in a range of styles to schools, libraries, senior centers and hospitals. They, along with colleagues from the dance program, show off their talent and creativity in the first concert of the year at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at UH-Manoa.

We're given the opportunity once more to see such fine young artists as Izumi Sato, the extraordinary bharata-natyam dancer from Japan. Schooled in India, she attacks that country's classical dance form with passion and conviction. When she introduces her "Hymn to Lord Rama," she explains the story of the dance, simultaneously executing the distinct gestures which accompany it.

If Sato excels at performing an adopted culture's style, Michael Pili Pang explores his own roots, the hula, by abiding by tradition in one instance (a duet with Annie Lokomaika'i Lipscomb) and then extending hula movements into the realm of modern dance. The latter, a duet performed with Noelani Goldstein to Robert Cazimero's "Lightning in the Sky," was first seen last year on the DanceQuakes concert. These three masterful hula dancers represent the genre nobly.

While hula and bharatanatyam are specialized dance forms of specific cultures, sign language is more universal. There is an inherent beauty in the art of signing which often appears to be a dance unto itself. Rosie Summers makes good use of it, in both a literal and more abstracted way, in her "Shani's Duet," performed with Polly Stewart to a song by Andra Willis Muhoberac. The excellent onstage accompaniment is provided by Andrew Valentine and Shintaro Yana.

The concert opens with a short solo, "Kereshmeh," by Sonja Hinz.

Based on Iranian dance, it is accompanied by (taped) contemporary music with traditional themes and Iranian instruments. Embellished by decorative arm and hand movements, the body alternately glides through space and lingers on one spot. Though apparently Iran's dances have become almost an endangered species, they are being nurtured by a large Iranian community in Los Angeles, where Hinz studied before coming to UH.

The concert closes with three modern dances. "Trio B," choreographed by graduate student Marissa Glorioso, uses three sections of Bach's Goldberg Variations to portray a trio of playful, exuberant women (Glorioso, Elizabeth Merida and Nicole Pouliot), running, falling, shoving, and intertwining. Glorioso's work displays a keen sense of musicality, wit and simple joy of movement. Ditto for faculty member Betsy Fisher's "Concerto for Two Cellos and Twelve Legs" (music by Antonio Vivaldi).

Dance program director Gregg Lizenbery has set his memorable "Bizzarie Sarabando" on three dancers. Opening night's performer, Melissa Frankel, handled the challenging material beautifully.