Monday, March 21, 2005


Saturday night I went to anjali, a “moving tribute to victims and survivors of the tsunami”, which was put together by Vibha, a volunteer organization working to help children in India and the United States. Nidhi, a coworker who, unfortunately for her, shares the closest proximity to my cubicle, and whom I’ve known since she was a 21 year-old intern over five years ago and, come to think of it, now shares a manager with me once again, sent me an email telling me about it and urging me to go. Having never been to any sort of Indian dance event before (not the Native American kind, I have seen Native Americans dance many times – you generally can’t get out of the MonDak area without a Native American rodeo and dance, particularly if your grandmother taught on the Res), I felt it would be at the very least different, if not enjoyable.

Tall Brad was worried I was going to go by myself, without Pooteewheet, (he was there too, with Mary and a third individual he claimed was a friend of Mary’s), but I called up my friend Kyle (see my previous post for a picture of Kyle) at the last moment so I had company and an excuse to stop for beer afterwards. Kyle’s a good bet for any sort of cultural event – the absolute proof being that he went with me to a Kabuki event in college, even though he knew it wouldn’t be in English and would be co-attended by my mother.

So, on to the actual event. First off, just to get it out of the way, it was great. When you spend a few hours watching Indian dancing and listening to Indian music, you realize how much it shares with Irish folktunes and Mexican/Spanish dancing. I suppose there’s probably a whole body of knowledge devoted to correspondences in traditional music/dance, I’ve just never noticed it myself – I focused on political history, not cultural convergence. There were several different performers: a sitar player and drummer (a lot of work goes into tuning drums for Indian music – he spent a good five minutes twirling the drums around to get them into the proper position while simultaneously seeming to tighten various things and hit other things with a little silver mallet – perhaps it was all for show, but it did give him the air of knowing what he was doing) who did “an improvised piece” from the Hindustani; a mother and daughter dance team (Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi dance style – it was a very active dance, looked like a lot of work – the daughter’s, Anisha’s, dress was cool – it had a sort of accordion, pleated style to it that seemed designed to actually work with the dance style); a dance troupe (Kathak, also the name of the style) that did several dances, including one where a god held a mountain up with his finger (one of the dancers is a postdoctoral in pharmaconeuroimmunology - you couldn't tell which one just by looking at them); a 15-year old dancer from Minnesota (Mohiniyattom style) who I thought was exceptional; a women’s dance group that did this interesting piece with sticks and lots of crawling and stamping that got more energetic, and more interesting, as they progressed; and a (male) singer of Indian/Bollywood showtunes. Personally, I’d have moved the singer somewhere else in the line up as he was sort of the weakest of the performers (it just wasn’t as exciting as the dancing), but then maybe he was more exciting for people with an Indian heritage. Kyle rightly pointed out that many people in the audience seemed to know the songs fairly well.

Of course, there were amusing parts as well, such as the kid running up and down the aisle and finally trying to climb up onto the stage because being loud and fast just wasn't drawing enough attention. It was a production for a group that volunteers time for children-related projects, however, so there's only so annoyed you can be with children trying to steal the spotlight. There was the announcement that someone-someone-Hussein would be showing up for a future concert, which was followed by an audible gasp from the audience. I thought at first I imagined it, but Kyle heard it too and we had a chuckle about it after the concert trying to think about what singer we would know the name to that we'd actually gasp about - I think the best we could manage would be to gasp because there was an inappropriate singer at an event we were going to...and opening for Metallica, Celine Dion! The (one) male dancer had listed in his little bio that in addition to Indian and Morris dancing, "Currently, he explores contact improvisation with Mandance." (it's just funny if you say it to yourself a few times - I'm pretty sure it didn't have to be worded that way). During the stick dance, there was a young girl who danced across the stage very slowly - at one point, one of the stick dancers gave her a sound whack in the foot - I'm pretty sure it wasn't part of the choreography. And the drummer, well, he looked a lot like my math teacher from Junior High, Willie Nelson - and picturing him drumming Indian drums was just strange.

To top off the evening, we had a nice drive out of the St. Paul U of MN campus past the swine fields, which almost put us in the ditch. It started out like someone had farted and progressed into an eye-watering, stomach turning gas attack that had Kyle looking like he was actually going to gag. It let up before we got to the abandoned pepper booth in the State Fairgrounds. In my youth, this is the point where I'd have caused trouble by running around the fairgrounds in the dark or something, but easier access to alcohol has actually blunted my desire to do anything troublesome, so instead we went to O'Gara's for several bad beers (their beer all has the same vinegary back taste - probably yeast contamination, or using the same yeast for all their beer instead of varying it) and cheesy bacon fries and nachos, the former looking like someone held melted a whole block of cheddar on them and sitting in the stomach like you'd eaten half a block of cheddar - go figure.

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