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Friday, May 14, 2010

Handa and the culture chameleons

Perhaps the list of cities and countries in which you've lived since childhood is as long as your arm. Cultures other than your own have touched your life, shaping your view of the world--and of yourself. You're a TCK. That's a Third (or Trans-) Culture Kid--a sociological term from the 1960s--with far more in common with other global nomads than with folks from your own native culture.

That's the premise of an interesting program curated and produced by Alaine Handa, running this week at University Settlement on Eldridge Street. The multi-talented Handa--dancer, choreographer, make-up artist, photographer, videographer and director of A. H. Dance Company--drew together numerous collaborators and guest performers to artistically explore what it means to be rooted in rootlessness, a mobile citizen of a larger, more complex world than most people experience. The two-hour evening--Chameleon--employs a collage of dramatic monologue, spoken word, video, dance and music. The music selections are lovely, and the performers are all technically secure, vivacious and handsome--even when serving up dance that looks a bit generic rather than capable of sharply articulating the program's unique theme. But Handa's video, I am a TCK, successfully conveys the core and heart of her story.

With its segments interspersed throughout Handa's ensemble dance, 4. Chameleon--a world premiere--the video is a fairly standard talking heads interview clip compilation and, on occasion, the sound quality is wanting. However, it does introduce us to a wonderful, diverse group of young people who share what it's like to adjust to and benefit from a succession of foreign homes.

Handa's project--which she describes as "living, breathing, evolving and growing"--strikes me as the kind of work intended more to generate cross-cultural engagement, discussion and support than for the kind of cutting edge aesthetic innovation critics tend to expect. I enjoyed the video, in particular, because it gently drew me close to the lives of these interesting young people--a valuable experience in empathy.

Chameleon continues tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 at University Settlement (184 Eldridge St, corner of Rivington Street, on Manhattan's Lower East Side; map). Click here for information and ticketing.

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