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Glenda Frank


Thunderbird American Indian Dancers


41st Annual Thunderbird American Indian Dancers' Dance Concert and Pow-Wow.
Louis Mofsie, Artistic Director.  
February 5 to 14, 2016.
Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm.
Presented by Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at Tenth Street), NYC.
$10. $1 for children accompanied by an adult at matinees.
For tickets and information: 212-254-1109
www.theatreforthenewcity.net and
Reviewed by Glenda Frank.

Photo by Farnaz Taherimotlagh.

Authenticity is rare. Some rappers do come from the ghetto; some from middle class neighborhoods in Queens. For every Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, there are a thousand imitators. The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers bring us more than authenticity. They bring skill, grace, and a most welcome running commentary that opens the door to Native American culture. These are the people, these the dances and songs that have been handed down generation to generation. They are colorful and charismatic, part of the history of this country. And they make perfect family entertainment. I was charmed. My sometimes fidgety grandsons, who sat enthralled for the 90 minutes, are still talking about meeting the performers and beating the tom-tom after the show.

Photo by Farnaz Taherimotlagh.

The performers come from ten different tribes: Seneca, Chickahominy, Winnebago, Pueblo, Sioux, Taino, even the Mayan, and they join together to bring us representative (and dramatic) dances in full, stunning regalia. There is a story teller (Matoka Eagle from Santo Domingo, Tewa), who scares the children with the legend of the giant Basket Woman with nasty fingernails and teeth whose favorite meal is children who won’t bathe. It is as though we were seated around the fire hearing one of the many stories that helped the tribes pass long, dark nights.
As a fan of Cirque du Soleil, I was most impressed with the Pueblo Hoop Dance. Two performers, working with six hoops that begin around their ankles, dance them into geometrical formations along their upper body until the female dancer becomes a giant bird, the hoops along her outstretched arms, and the male dancer becomes Atlas, his hoops forming the world. The complex choreography of both legs and upper body was mesmerizing and beautiful.

The Robin Dance teaches us how to approach the genre. According to Louis Mofsie (Hopi/Winnebago), our guide, the basis of the movement is imitation – or homage: the dancer brings us the robin’s steps and gestures. The Iroquois Smoke Dance, on the other hand, reflects life in the Long House (a one story apartment building). Smoke from the central fire that kept several families warm would sometimes hang stagnant so the women would gather around the fire and do the Smoke Dance to clear the air.

Deer Dance. Photo by Farnaz Taherimotlagh.

Other dances reflect prayers. The Hopi Eagle dance by Raymond Two Feathers (a Cherokee) is an invocation for rain. The very popular Deer Dance (from the Yaqui of Arizona) is an enactment of the hunt and a thanksgiving to the deer for giving up its life so that the tribe might flourish.

Children are invited to the stage to copy the Winnebago Feather Dance, a contest which is first enacted by Native Americans from two generations, wearing stunning tribal beading and feathers. It is a feat of grace and agility. They warm up with dance, then incorporate picking up the feather with their mouths, without knees or hands touching the floor. The younger man lifts the feather with ease; the older dancer circles it many times – perhaps to build the suspense – while both parents and grandparents hope he too would prove himself still a warrior.

The final number is, fittingly, Singing Out The Drums. Then everyone is invited to the stage to join the tribes.

This Dance Concert and Pow-Wow is a community exchange – tribe with tribe, performers with the audience, a symbiosis. A pre-teen Native American girl who joined the dancers excited younger viewers and established the generational spread on stage that is reflected in the audience. Crystal Field, director of Theatre for the New City, has generously offered the space to the company for 20 years. All proceeds benefit Native American scholarship fund.

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