Friday, January 23, 2015

I dance as my lungs need to breathe: "Cedars" at La MaMa

Joan Henry (Cherokee) in Cedars
(photo: Jonathan Slaff)
Matt Langer (Dakota) in Cedars
(photo: Tatiana Ronderos)

I dance for those who dance no more....
I dance as my lungs need to breathe....
I dance whatever my daily circumstance....
--excerpts from the text for Cedars

Cedars--revised from its 2002 production by a Seattle troupe and presented at La MaMa by Mirage Theatre Company--features an ensemble of five Native American actors and director June Prager's adaptation of works by writers such as Evan Pritchard (M'kmaq) and Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki). Its strength lies in its insistence on the self-definition and visibility of indigenous peoples, the owning and treasuring of difference: "Refusing to vanish, I can only answer with my dark name."

The 80-minute presentation and its cast seem reticent and mild, though, in comparison to Prager's text--a rough-textured collage drawn from existence in the crosshairs of history at the crossroads of cultures. As with the Black Lives Matter movement, our moment calls for disruptive narratives like those at the core of Cedars. If only this sincere and careful production could bring out and deliver a much-needed jolt.

Performances by Wolfen de Kastro (Aztec/Huasteca/Maya), Joan Henry (Cherokee), Alana LaMalice (Dene-Cree), Matt Langer (Sioux and Cree), John Scott-Richardson (Haliwa-Saponi and Tuscarora). Music by Charles Upham (Blackfeet) and masks by Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwha s'Klallam)

Cedars runs through February 1 with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

La MaMa (First Floor Theatre)
74A East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue), Manhattan

1 comment:

Ray Evans Harrell said...

I disagree with your comment about the performances. We had a wonderful native ensemble in Cedars. I wish that it would continue and evolve. The native aesthetic is harmony, alignment and balance. The clash between the brutal truth of the words and the ensemble aesthetic is the point. It's not nice or obvious. The masks were interesting because as garish and rude as they were, even they were not "in your face" compared to masks from other continents and peoples. Other cultures may bang the drum in super intricate cross rhythms but Natives listen to each other and sync their rhythms and use loudness for emphasis not as a substitute for resonance and group cohesion. Native drumming can stretch different tempos in the drum and the voice over huge time distances in ways not found in Ireland, Africa or any of the other world musics. It's a subtle unique view of the universe. The loudest person isn't followed but walked away from. The softness of the native path has always been a problem for Hollywood and the "American" view of First Nations Peoples. That's one of the reasons Native Peoples are conflicted about joining other groups in Civil Rights and other movements. Those group's sheer volume is destructive and makes life seem simply about power, authority and patronage. In spite of War Paths, Warriors in the military and pulp fictions about "wild" Indians, Indian people are remarkably peaceful and tend to avoid conflict and think in the long term compared to their neighbors expediency and explosiveness. These traits are paths that are at odd with the way most Native groups consider their culture. Ray Evans Harrell, Tsalagi Ayeli, Picher, Oklahoma now: Performing Arts Teacher, New York City since 1970

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