New Dances in Pittsburgh
I recently attended the 29th Annual Latin American and Caribbean Festival, put on by The Center for Latin American Studies and the Latin American Cultural Union, at the William Pitt Union building on the University of Pittsburgh campus. There I heard El Coro LatinoAmericano sing four-part choral music from Latin America, saw the Panther Tango Club dance, and watched Annia Aleman, a senior at Allderdice High School who was born in Nicaragua, dance a traditional folk dance.
While their variety of songs and styles were impressive, El Coro LatinoAmericano is mostly comprised of relative amateurs. Songs were introduced by current president, Ceinwen King-Smith, a U.S. native who is blind, was educated at Stanford and Harvard, speaks eight languages, and has lived in Pittsburgh since 1969. In her final introduction she said, "If you like what you hear, come join us! If you don't like what you here, come join us and make it better!"
The Panther Tango dancers were introduced by a white-haired gentleman, who graciously admitted that what we were about to see, was a representation of the tango by "a bunch of gringos." The group, however, proudly carries on the traditions of the dance for "artistic expression, cultural enrichment, fun and relaxation," as their website states. Before beginning, the leader spoke about the history of the Tango.
It originated in the lowly dance halls of Argentina and was commonly looked down upon — until a group of dancers went to Paris and there it became the hottest ticket in town. After the introduction, the mostly-middle aged and un-perfectly matched dancers then demonstrated a series of exhibition dances with moderate gusto, and a few mis-steps, but with a sense of accomplishment and pride as the audience eagerly watched in admiration.
Then beautiful Annia Aleman took the stage for her dance in a brightly colored folk outfit which included a large light green hat embellished with a vast array of colorful plastic flowers, sequined bows, and feathers. Despite having to re-start three times because of technical problems with her music, Annia danced simply and gracefully, in one hand a large purple fan made of dyed chicken down feathers, and in another a traditional Native American kitchen bowl. After the audience's applause, Annia explained how the dance was a fusion of Nicaraguan Native American and Spanish dance styles. She admittedly apologized, however, that the dance was supposed to be done with a partner and then said, "So if you want to come dance with me, let me know!"
This all made me glow with pride and anticipation. I was proud that the city of Pittsburgh has a 29th Annual Latin American and Caribbean Festival, proud of the people who come from vastly different and colorful cultures and claim Pittsburgh as their own, just as immigrants have been doing since its inception. And it made me think about the influence of art, culture, and geography. This all, of course, made me think about the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts.
Will Pittsburgh take up the invitation to dance? Is it too lofty to think that the Festival, which will only be here three weeks, might have artistic and cultural influences in store for the city of Pittsburgh even after its closure? After seeing Ballet Maribor, might young dancers begin a tradition of classic tales danced from end to beginning? Might amateur community theatres begin to explore new styles and performance outlets? Will area artists begin creating original works exploring language and physicality like in Jo Stromgren's The Department? Might young children begin to build their own story labyrinths in their bedrooms inspired from Teatro De Los Sentidos? Will this festival and its influence be around 29 years from now?
Only time will tell, but it's nice to dream about...