My Final Project Part One: Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance

Today I attended a recital by the Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble at the UI Space Place Theater in North Hall. I really enjoyed the performance, and was especially pleased to see Pat Bigsby drumming, and my colleague Jim Dreier leading the musicians. As the name implies, both drummers and dancers are involved in the production (obviously) and it highlights the predominant thought I had leaving the recital; some music is just meant to be danced to. I used to think that all dance was meant to be done to music, until I participated in a production last year of improvisation with the dance department and witnessed some incredibly inspring movement to little or no music. However, I am still biased toward live musicians accompanying dance, whether it be classical ballet, folk dancing, or Broadway shows.

I must admit that when I first entered the Space Place (30 minutes late – long story) I was a bit underwhelmed by the monotony of the beat and lack of harmonic and melodic texture – BUT, then something magical happened. I was noting the subtle differences between each of the dancers, as some seemed to truly enjoy the dance and others seems a bit self-conscious. The costumes were colorful and hip, but simple, and the variety of percussion sounds, along with very authentic singing, was engaging. As pleasant as this was, it was the final dance that sold me. The dancers invited members of the audience to join in the dancing.
My first thought was “Oh no, don’t pick me!”, which they wisely did not, but I was quickly warmed by the feeling of joy that all of the dancers exuded. Everyone was smiling, moving freely without inhibition, and the “recital” quickly evolved into a party, forming into a circle with single dancers taking impromptu solos. Then it hit me – JOY. That is the key to performing, joy of the performer, for the composer, for the audience. Sure, not all art is joyful. Some is somber, melancholy, yearning, even angry. But art is empty without the commodity of emotion flowing between the artist and the witness.

If I were to attempt to answer three of the five questions I suggested in the guidelines, I would choose:

• What did you learn from this experience? How has it inspired you?

Personally, I learned to plan my Sundays better when they involve my daughter attending a birthday party and cheerleading when we are down to one car. I would also make sure to always carry cash, but I don’t think I will every really learn that lesson. Seriously, I learned that Jim Dreier studied in Cuba with an expert in the field of Afro-Cuban percussion, and picked up some impressive singing skills as well. It’s always nice to learn that a very talented person has even more hidden talent, and that artists continue to share their knowledge and experience.

• Suggest an idea for a collaborative arts project.

I would love to combine Collegium Tubum with this ensemble for a unique project combining the best of both worlds, and possibly create a new hybird work.

• What constructive criticism would you offer each artist or ensemble?

The balance, lighting, costumes and program were excellent, and very entertaining. The one problem with that particular venue is that the dancers waiting in the wings can be see by most of the audience, so the illusion of a performance is a bit shot – but it was the complete breakdown of the “fourth wall”, when the audiences was invited to dance, that was the best part of the performance – so much for formalities. I think we should all strive to project and generate as much joy as I saw today, which is something that isn’t always easy spending hours in the practice room.

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