Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ethnic Dance Festival reunion of Petite la Croix with Blanche Brown, Kotoja, Jimmy Carter and Henry Butler

This past weekend, I attended the Ethnic Dance Festival, its 4th and final week, specifically to honor Blanche Brown, founder and choreographer of Petite La Croix, a Haitian Dance Troupe here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I think they were my introduction and love for all things Haitian. They made me proud of my Afro-Caribbean legacy as a child of New Orleans: Vodun country.

Blanche Brown received the Malonga Casquelord award for her excellence in dance and her legacy in the preservation and guardianship of an important African cultural expression. I hadn't seen her dance in a long while and when the alumni company joined Alafia on stage in their dramatic purple and white, white face paint covering half each of their countenances, it was a sight to behold. I love Gede, the deity of the cemetery and the dead, among other things...I recall my introduction to him when Marc Bamuthi Joseph evoked him when he performed one of his narratives, this one a question about what it means to be a father. He spoke of how hiw grandfather told him he met his great grandson...and as he told the story, Marc relayed how the torch was passed as his grandfather exited this dimension into the next as the child was born. His son is named for his great granddad. It was pretty deep. I hadn't known up to this point that Marc was first generation Haitian American from New York.

So it was a treat to see the company Ms. Brown founded and its leader get props. Another company I enjoyed was the Hawaiian one and the Filipino one. The Mexican company had the most lovely gowns that the women dancers used like fans.

Sunday evening I went to see James Cotton and Monday night I went to see The Five Blind Boys featuring lead singer, Jimmy Lee Carter. The band was pretty awesome. Henry Butler came back stage to say hi, and it was nice to see him also. He's a handsome man.

Saturday night I went to see Kotoja. They were great as usual. When I was too tired to stand, I leaned on my partner so I didn't have to sit any songs out. Early Saturday, I went by the Museum of the African Diaspora to look at the exhibit "Double Exposure," which is African American photographs looking at the image as subject and object. Carrie Mae Weems was the inspiration for the curator, who has assembled work which takes in Hank Willis' work, which has him in a bonnet, a caricature of the Mammy on the pancake box, tried to shift the perception along its axis or comfort level just enough to make his audience question the truth of the statement as they gaze at its inversion. Hank's mother, Deborah Willis imposes or prints her childhood and family photos on her dad's neck ties which are sewn together in a quilt. I just thought about the inference of family hanging on her dad's neck. I wonder if he saw them as a burden? Next to Hank, Carrie Mae Weems uses stereotypical images (4) and has a film of red coloring the presentation. The one word labels on each of the four women, like Hank's portrait...calls into question the role of judgement in accertaining the inaccuracy or accuracy of one's perceptions and ultimately what one calls the truth.

I ran over to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to see The Way We Rhyme before heading over to the Palace of Fine Arts for the Ethnic Dance Festival.

The next day, Sunday, June 29, before I rushed back for the James Cotton show from Palo Alto, I quickly ran through the art exhibit at the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford. The exhibit was a collection of ceremonial masks from Zambia. Quite a few were ancestral and carried power. There was a video patrons could watch to see the masks use in ceremony.

James Cotton, on blues harp, was awesome Sunday evening as were the Blind Boys Monday night and Gilberto Gil Wednesday evening. Gil put on an amazing show....I am still tired from all my running. I am debating whether or not I am still going to the alternative July 4th event that UpSurge Jazz and Poetry is hosting at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music. It was really fun last year.

I think I'll take a nap and think about it.


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