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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

Fine performances conjure faraway cultures

By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser


Presented by the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance

8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, 2 p.m. Sunday

UHM's Earle Ernst Lab Theatre


Tickets: www.etickethawaii.com

Information: 956-7655, www.hawaii.edu/kennedy

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This year's Spring Footholds dance program, presented this weekend at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, transports us to the islands of Cuba and Ireland, the plains of North America and back in time to the 1940s. Within the 90-minute performance called "Signatures," we are witnesses to a variety of cultures, removed from us in time and place.

Gene Horita's "Perspectivas Cubanas," inspired by a religious Afro-Cuban ceremony, opens the program. Depicting a Yoruban deity, a male soloist (Horita) enters with strident steps and briskly swinging arms. His energetic, pulsating rhythm precedes the regal entry of eight women who move like statuesque goddesses to the lilting tones of a Cuban music ensemble. Their noble carriage, swaying hips and swinging skirts — some white, others red — bear witness to the solemnity of the occasion while still conveying the love of movement inherent in that culture.

"Green Blanket Feet," choreographed by Tanya Somday, is a semi-narrative work inspired by Somday's Native American heritage. Accompaniment includes the voices of her relatives, who tell a story of a young girl taken from her family. This prodigal daughter eventually returns to her father after a series of dramatic events.

Sometimes it was difficult to understand the voices, but, fortunately, Somday's dance speaks for itself. We see the girl (the excellent Sky Fung) being assaulted, carried away, negotiating a forest, a river and finally escaping to family. Though not a re-creation of Native American rituals, that culture is implied through beribboned torsos, treading steps and wheeling pivots and through the score, including tom-toms and flutes.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a dance must be worth at least a novel. Case in point: "Determined Art," a piece that conveys the struggle of the creative artist within a totalitarian state. Contrasting a solo dancer in red (beautifully danced by Lauren Santos) against a drab chorus of robotic characters, choreographer Cher Anabo succeeds in making a strong statement about freedom of expression. Using the music and recorded voice of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, himself a victim of oppression by Stalin, she presents the individual struggling to express herself while dominated by "the masses."

Anabo's ability to convey the message purely through non-pantomimic movement and to find the right amount of tension between the soloist and the somnambulistic chorus is admirable.

Lauren Santos' choreographic contribution to the program, "Drift," features a quintet of dancers manipulating large pillows while a snowstorm of feathers rain down. Santos gets an "A" for imaginative use of props.

Sarah Jane Carlton's "The Ceilidh" pays homage to Celtic legends. Primarily lyrical in style, the occasional flurries of footwork and lilting Irish score transport us to the Emerald Isle. Within the cast of nine women, characters such as The Maiden, the Mother and The Crone are distinguished.

Mayu Ota's excellent solo, "The Rose," and Tiana Ching Maslanka's lively swing piece to the strains of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw bring the program to a rousing conclusion.