Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Concert & Pow Wow
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
February 8, 2008
If you are looking for a new and fun way to teach respect for the environment to a young person, take them to see the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers at Theater For The New City. They are the oldest NYC American Indian dance company and the entire proceeds of their annual two-week performance at TNC benefit college funds for Native American students. The cast of 18 includes singers, dancers, percussionists, and storytellers led by the artistic director and narrator of the show, Louis Mofsie. Included in the performance are dances and traditional music of the Iroquois and Native Peoples of the Northwest Coast, the Southwest, the Plains, and Alaska. Although spread out over a large geographic region and encompassing several different tribal cultures, the evening's dances and songs are tied together with common themes such as the importance of community and the giving of thanks for the beauty and bounty of nature.
This wide diversity paired with commonality can be seen within the cast as well. Ranging in ages from pre-teen to 50s, the group is made up of people of seemingly full Native American heritage along with those celebrating this aspect of their family history as part of a multicultural background. There is also a range of physicality and dance ability that sometimes limits the performances in terms of show-stopping technique and expertise with complex movement. But what unites the performers is that they all look to be having a great time while simultaneously taking the task of education and sharing Native American culture with seriousness and pride.
Mofsie explains the significance of movements before each dance so that we know that a two-handed gesture in the Caribou Dance of the Inuit people of Alaska is meant to portray how the herd runs or that a circle of women around a young man in a dance from the people of the Northwest Coast symbolizes the welcoming of him into the adult community after ritual isolation in the forest. The information is helpful and interesting to learn, but Mofsie also knows when the simplicity of the dance's purpose needs no further telling, such as the Hopi Butterfly dance. The dance gives thanks for butterflies and natural beauty through delicate movement and beautiful costumes. Unfortunately, there is no costume credit given in the program, but they are a highlight and also an integral part of the such dances as the Plains Jingle Dance with jingle balls worn around the ankles and a women's Shawl Dance.
There is also audience participation with a Round Dance, where everyone is invited to dance with the performers in a circle onstage. This, for me, reinforced the group's message of unity of all people since, while holding hands and dancing in a circle, I felt like I could have been at my cousin's bar mitzvah. Every culture seems to have its circle dance and I felt right at home. I would especially like to mention the performer Donna Ahmadi who enacted a Plains Hoop Dance. Using four hoops, she gave an extraordinary performance filled with grace and skill. It was a joy to watch and worth the price of admission alone..