Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

13 February, 2006

International Festival

I spent several hours yesterday downtown at the Overture Center for the 2006 International Festival. It promised to be 6 hours of multi-cultural goodness including music, dance, crafts, and food.

The festivities started at 11 with the Swiss Alphorns of New Glarus.




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It was explained to the audience that the horns were carved from pine trees and were originally used to communicate from mountaintop to mountaintop back in Switzerland. For anyone not familiar with Wisconsin, New Glarus is a small town a bit south of Madison. It was settled predominantly by folks of Swiss-German heritage. For more information on Swiss music in our fair state, check out Yodeling in Dairyland by UW professor James P. Leary.

The alphorns were followed by local purveyors of Cajun music, The Cajun Strangers. Cajun music is dance music! Lots of two steps. It features plenty of accordion and fiddle and, when it started, was mostly played by whites. (As opposed to creole/zydeco.)




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There were many performances going on at the same time so I wasn't able to see them all, unfortunately. I spent a lot of time in the newly-renovated Capitol Theater as that's where the bulk of Slavic dance was held. I wasn't able to get a decent picture of the joint but it looks fantastic! I personally really love old theaters like the Capitol and find it to be aesthetically superior to Overture Hall. There's just something about attending a classical music concert in a more modern setting that just doesn't jive with me. Of the area venues for symphonies, Symphony Hall in Chicago takes the prize. Hopefully some interesting acts will be booked at the Capitol as I look forward to returning.

The first performance I saw there was by Zaibas Lithuanian Dancers, a troupe right here in Madison.






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The picture immediately above was taken of a dance about linen – making it, washing it, turning it into clothing. It struck me as I sat there that we here in modern America don't have dances about the mundane and, indeed, the whole idea seems rather silly. We don't have a dance about shopping at The Gap or any such thing; we don't have dances about the everyday things we all do. I suppose this is because such things don't take nearly as much time as they used to and we are less involved with them. Most people go to a store and buy clothing today instead of going to a clothmaker, buying material, and then spending hours sewing. Still, there are plenty of little things we all do in our lives but it seems like we tend to think of these activities as filler between other "more important" or major things.

I had some time to blow before the next performance at the Capitol Theater so I wandered downstairs and caught a bit of the Bits-of-Africa. I heard the sounds of drums and wandered into the room to find children galore dancing and singing.



Going back to the theater, I eagerly sat down and watched music and dance by the Madison Chinese Cultural Association. The first routine was performed by a group of girls who were all about 10 years old. Glad in striking red outfits, they did a dance with scarves.



A couple of the girls changed outfits and came out again.



Next, a group of musicians came onstage and performed a couple short songs which were wonderful.


The man is playing a wooden flute while I believe the instrument the woman is playing is the pipa which is a bit like a lute.




Now, I think these folks are playing a type of fiddle called the Gao-Hu.
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The performance continued with the young ladies returning in green to do a wonderful dance involving umbrellas.


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For the finale, all the girls came out, including some younger ones who were probably 5 or 6, and danced to the sound of cymbals. They held paper plates painted bronze while folks offstage played the real things. They were all just interminably cute in their colorful outfits!



The performance by the Chinese Cultural Association was just magnificent! If the Lithuanian routines seemed foreign then this was positively alien. Afterwards I felt a bit bad as it reminded me that I should really reestablish contact with a friend of mine who is first generation Chinese-American. His parents immigrated here from China in the 1960s and he and I have known one another since kindergarten – almost 29 years! And in that time, I know he has struggled to reconcile the Chinese and the American. His father passed away about 3 years ago and he's been helping his mother through rough times. T shift to a brighter note, his mother is a fucking fantastic cook! Eating at her home was always a treat and I've never had anything remotely like her cooking at any Chinese restaurant. Ye gods! I'm getting hungry now…

Next up were the Heather Highland Dancers which featured a couple former co-workers of mine. Some of the dances were done to live bagpipe while the rest were done to pre-recorded music being piped in through the PA.


Look at those socks – marvelous!
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I think it was about this time that I caught up with The Dulcinea and her kids. We retreated to the lobby for some lunch. Indian tacos it was! I had vowed to try them to see what the hell they were. Well, they were fry bread with ground meat and your typical taco fixins mounded atop it. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. Hastily chowing it down and removing the sour cream from my goatee, I headed back to the Capitol Theater where the pollack in me reveled in Polish dance courtesy of Narodno International Dancers. The first couple dances were Polish and were followed by others from Eastern Europe.


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The above dance featured women only and sent many a naughty Slavic thought through my head...Mid-set, a couple came out and sang some songs a cappella. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the origin of the tunes. Croatian?





I went downstairs hoping to catch some klezmer courtesy of Yid Vicious but I only caught a couple minutes of their set.



Afterwards I got in line to see the Natyarpana Dance Company but the joint was packed and I was turned away. Instead I wandered over to check out Miss Annie Mae’s Hats. (More on that another time.) On my way to the gallery, I caught sight of Navan downstairs singing Celtic music.



My cell phone actually came in handy as I called The Dulcinea and she said that she was in line for Tri Bratovchedki Singers. The trio sing music from the Balkans which appealed to my Ruthenian blood.


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The day was rounded out by the Atimevu Drum & Dance Ensemble. My pictures of them didn't turn out but I did grab a bit of video. Check it out.

Although I saw a number of performances, I missed twice as many – easily. It was just impossible to take it all in. In addition to the music, dance, and food, I got to meet some fellow members of the Polish Heritage Club. They were selling various craft works and I was sorely tempted by the pottery which featured some really neat bowls, utensils, etc. The Dulcinea saw some shirts being sold by the African Co-op that she thought would look good on me. Alas, no purchases were made. I also got a chance to peruse the artwork hanging on the walls. Some of it was really good and I'll post some pics of that another time.

Oh! In addition to drums'n'dancing, I had me some jerk pork from Jamerica. I gleefully made my order and was given a country ton of porky goodness! The paper plate didn't stand a chance as the liquid seeped through almost immediately. I had about 20 napkins underneath to soak it all up. And so, as I ambled back to my car, I had a big pork buzz going. Perfect way to end the day.
|| Palmer, 9:17 PM

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