Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Universal Language of Dance

Okinawan dancer Junko Fisher appeared at the Fall Open House Performance at Lotus Music and Dance on Saturday. It was an opportunity for the Queens resident to showcase traditional Okinawan dance as well has her singing voice. After performing two dances, "Kajiyadefu" and "Nuchibana," Fisher sang two songs while playing the sanshin, a traditional three-stringed instrument of Okinawa.

Junko Fisher performs "Kajiyadefu"

She was one of three acts performing in a unique presentation of dance. The first to perform was a group of advanced students of Kamala Cesar, Artistic Director of Lotus Music and Dance. As Cesar described the traditional Indian dances, she emphasized the importance of the girls' hand gestures and footwork. The movements of their hands conveyed the story of the dance – in this case, the dancers are working the fields and annoyed by the birds who are eating their freshly planted seeds. Their bell-covered feet acted as musical instruments, making it especially important for their timing to be right.

Kamala Cesar of Lotus Music and Dance

Kamala Cesar's students perform Bharata Natyam

As I listened to Cesar's description, I was struck how similar it sounded to Okinawan and Japanese dance. Each dance is a story, be it of the court (as in "Kajiyadefu") or the common folk (as in "Nuchibana"), and hand movements suggested actions such as viewing the moon or pouring sake. In Japanese and Okinawan dance, the dancer can also be a musician; in "Nuchibana" Fisher played yotsudake, which means "four pieces of bamboo." Although Okinawan dancers don't wear jewelry or other accessories, Fisher's brightly colored kimono were on par with the beautiful silk garments worn by the Bharata Natyam dancers.

Stunning garments

Bingata, a type of traditional Okinawan cloth

This universality shouldn't surprise me, as every culture has traditions deeply rooted in dance. The last performance of the day was a collaboration Kathak dance and Flamenco. It sounded like an odd combination to me, even after dancer and choreographer Romanee Kalicharran explained that Flamenco has roots in Kathak, a classical Indian dance. But when I saw Kalicharran and Flamenco dancer Yloy Ybarra combine Indian and Spanish movement, it made sense to me.

Romanee Kalicharran (left) and Yloy Ybarra

Kathak and Flamenco collaboration

When I went to Lotus Music and Dance to see my friend Junko Fisher perform familiar dances and sing two songs I love, I didn't expect to receive an education on the world of dance.

Junko Fisher performs on sanshin

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