Tonight, The Theater for the New City presented the 48th annual program The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers in Concert. It was a visually dazzling, joyous, spirited, yet sobering celebration of culture and beauty highlighting one of North America’s most significant historical treasures, its indigenous people. It is said that native Americans arrived here more than 12 thousand years before the Europeans.
One was struck by the nonpareil blinding radiance, fire, and élan of the highly individualized regalia of costumes adorned by intense colors, feathers, beaded cones or ziibaaska’iganan, intricate beadwork, moccasins, feather fans, headdresses, shells, and fringes.
Raconteur and narrator Louis Mofsie (Hopi/Winnebago) guided us through majestic proclamations of dances, storytelling, and music portraying the magnificence and provenance of these rich cultures. The coruscating colors and movements portrayed themes associated with rituals, reverence, and prayers to a Creator for blessings, health, and thanksgiving, gladness for the life-giving forces of animals and rain, community pride, and honor to their warriors who protect them. A powerful theme of community, social, and intense dignity encompassed the psyche of each dance. It hailed the individual pride of not only past tribes from the continent but of today’s descendants who came forward to share with us.
All this and more were projected through the series of dances and storytelling encompassing the vicissitudes and mysticism of Native American life, including the Iroquois Stomp Dance, Striking the Stick and Smoke Dances, Jingle Dress and Grass Dances, the Rabbit Dance, and Oklahoma Stomp Dance. Not only were authentic drums, rattles, and wind instruments used to accompany dances, but Rob Mastrianni performed a marvelous contemporized, and synthesized guitar.
Of particular note was Mofsie’s reference to the attempted eradication of Native American cultures in the United States. He described how many Native American children, beginning in the late 19th century, were forcibly enrolled in special schools run by government and church-based agencies. Forced to assimilate into English-speaking American society, these children wore uniforms, cut their hair, marched in formations, and were banned from speaking their native languages. There’s a touch of irony when one considers the vital role of Navajo speakers who exacted secure coded radio communications during World War II.
Thought-provoking and heartbreaking indeed. Like other descendants of emigres who survived regimes attempting to eradicate the cultures of people in occupied lands, the writer reflected on the occupation of Baltic states through 1989.
The human spirit emerged despite the constraints of boarding schools. The populations of uprooted children representing many languages discovered ways to leave campuses to covertly dance and celebrate their traditions while creating through a “vocabulized” process a hybrid of English and Native American language syllables. This emotionally charged event was demonstrated through the Oklahoma stomp dance.
Founded in 1963, The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers have toured the United States. Canada, Israel, and Japan. Their work has crafted scholarship funding for hundreds of Native American students.
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers
Singers and Dancers
Louis Mofsie, Alan Brown, Sandi Capasso, Isabelle Cespedes, Matt C. Cross, Matoaka Little Eagle, Julian Gabourel, Kitty Gabourel, Marie Poncé, Carlos Eagle Feather, Michael Taylor, and Ciarán Tufford.
Crystal Field, Director
Dawn Hartop, Stage Manager
Rob Mastrianni, Guitar
Lighting – Design by Alex Bartenieff. Operation by Rob Mastrianni and Dawn Hartop
Solomon Mendelsohn, Company House Manager
Joy Felsenthal-Mendelsohn, Company Assistant
Louis Mofsie, Artistic Director
Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission
Theater for The New City
155 First Ave.
New York, NY 10003
For tickets and information, go to www.theaterforthenewcity.net.