Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peter Buffett's "Spirit" dance video - "Misleading..."

This entry is a copy of the review posted on about Peter Buffett's "Spirit: A Journey in Dance, Drums and Song" submitted on 1/14/10.

Peter Buffett is an accomplished musician and music producer. While we can appreciate his attempt to form a musical and conceptual communion between indigeny (indigenous culture and spirituality, lifeways) and modern angst and challenge (born out of the divergence from the indigenous human developmental path), some of the resonance of the real that exists in his album, "Spirit: The Seventh Fire", is lost in the translation to video and to the physical/visual form of dance and movement. The album that inspired this video allows us to form a healthy process of exploration into the complex, yet simple conflict between indigeny and modernity and the disconnection of modern life and society from spirit, tradition and earth-based community and culture. The video starts off in a promising manner in the exposition of "Urban Overture", a creative and thought-provoking look into the modern machine-life that corporate sub-culture has created. The blockish movements of the European/USAmerican dancers are instructive for anyone seeking to have the gift of their awakening eyes and heart validated. This piece readies us for a deep journey into the inter-relationship of Western modernity and indigenous tradition - that never materializes or grounds itself in the performance. The performances of the "modern dancers" never equals the passion or the indigenous dance, not even with some other form of bitter-sweet beauty, framing the degradation that modernity has wrought upon indigeny and traditional societies. The European male modern dance lead never is given an intelligent, poignant or historically savvy way of kinetically relating to the presence and power of the Native American dancer(s) and thus never brings to the forefront the real engagement that needs to take place in the minds and heart of modern citizens. At one point, he literally and physically is left just taking up space as the weakened narrative suggests that some sort of inner and important transformation is taking place within him. It was sad to watch him sit cross legged in the middle of the stage, spotlit, as the power of the Native America dance and sound took flight around him, his fingers uncomfortably, ignorantly fondling a fake eagle feather. It was much more sad than thought-provoking in a moment that should have brought tears of initiatory joy to our hearts. Even the easy cliche of Native and modern dancers moving together as one was never cashed in on. Extra footage at the end of the tape revealing an interview with the choreographer left one thinking that the dance never had a chance to meet up with the great responsibility of the provision of clarity and learning about the conflict between the two cultural dynamics. "Tony Award Winner Wayne Cilento" was poorly chosen for this multi-plexed choreographic job. All in all, it seemed that Buffett's team knew more about it's own narrow viewpoints (however unconsciously), technically, creatively and conceptually - historically, than it did about how to gracefully, powerfully and insightfully create a union of thought and movement and sound that would truly be transformative and separate itself from the myriad of failed and flawed attempts that many Europeans/USAmericans engage in to voice a functional and instructive presentation of a relationship that still has so many dynamics to be resolved. Maybe one could have seen this coming with their use of Kevin Costner to introduce the video/dance recital. I'm sure none of the producers had read, or better yet understood, the deep levels of "white" power privilege and concomitant guilt that played itself out in "Dances with Wolves".

In addition, this presentation never gave voice or vision to the presence of indigeny living with and often in spite of modern culture. A Native American wearing blue jeans does not necessarily have to also be shown with a liquor bottle. There was no statement, other than the verbal/lyrical....eclipsed by the dazzling lights and mediocre movements...that indigeny belongs or lives in current time. It seemed to always show up as a flashback that all the modern-Costners of today could (mis)appropriate again and again for their own use, not for the highest good of all, all people, all living things, all our relations. Seemingly, Buffett and his team could not carry this one off, less so once they moved it from the much stronger statement of the purely musical presentation.

I was highly disappointed and will have to relegate this video to my robust and growing pile of cultural media studies samples that give us a more powerful idea of what and how not to create cultural communications than how to manifest creative and functional ideas that are validating to life, progressive social change and cultural clarity.

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