the 1970s, theater producer Barbara Schwei started looking for a
was thinking, 'What do I like to do? What would inspire me?' " she
said in a phone interview from New York.
longtime fan of Native American art, Schwei wondered if a show featuring
American Indian dance might be the ticket. "And there started the
adventure," she said.
hooked up with Hanay Geiogamah, and the idea brewed for a while.
explored some things and got the dialogue going," Geiogamah, a professor
of theater at the University of California Los Angeles, said from
his L.A. home. "It all began to come to fruition 10 years later."
the summer of 1986, the pair traveled across the country and attended
every powwow and Native American dance they could find. They assembled
a cast, and the first performance of American Indian Dance Theatre
was the following year.
after Anchorage appearances in the early 1990s, the 18-member troupe
returns for two performances in Atwood Concert Hall.
happy to come up" again, Geiogamah said.
an Anchorage show in 1990, a reviewer wrote that the group reminded
him of Buck, the Saint Bernard that discovers he has the soul of
a wolf when he's brought to the Yukon in Jack London's book "The
Call of the Wild."
dances and the drums and chanting accompanying them stirred memories
beyond immediate experience," reviewer Paul Ben-Itzak wrote.
Anne Herman said there was something elementary, spiritual and potent
about the group's performance here in 1993. "(It) was a compelling
statement by a culture that is ancient and contemporary and very
much alive," she added.
said that remains true. The dancers are all traditional, he said;
most grew up performing with their tribes at powwows. They are not
officially costumed but wear their own regalia.
contributes to a stronger performance, a more intensely personal
focus," said Geiogamah, a member of the Kiowa and Delaware tribes
group performs a variety of dances, including what Schwei -- who
says she's the only non-Native American member of the group -- calls
"pan-tribal pieces." But there are some they never do.
would never try some of the religious dances, of course," she said.
"That wouldn't be appropriate; this is theater."
also educational, showcasing traditional Native American dances
such as the Eagle Dance, set to music by Robbie Robertson. But the
group also choreographs work such as "New Dance," blending old and
don't want to just do traditional dances; we want to create new
stuff," Geiogamah said. "Every culture has to evolve and create
new expressions of their art."
American Indian Dance Theatre has been successful in doing that.
It has traveled the world, was the only all-Indian group to have
a national television special, received an Emmy nomination for a
later special and a Grammy nomination for its original-cast album.
times, the dancers have toured as much as 35 weeks a year, supporting
themselves without grants. Geiogamah said that will be changing
as he looks for funding to further the group's ability to perform
and travel. The group is especially conscious of the need to make
their work accessible to the casual viewer, even those who've never
seen Native American dances.
calls the performance a "universal expression of celebration," including
personal and group stories told by the dancers.
will leave our show feeling uplifted," he said. "It is a positive
and uplifting experience for everybody."