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by Teatro del Milenio

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 2222

SHOWING : March 08, 2007 - March 11, 2007



Peru's Teatro del Milenio explodes in an extravaganza of Dance is it examines the cultural roots of the Afro-Peruvian community.

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Cultural Evolution
by Dedalus
Monday, March 19, 2007
Here is a show I feel totally unqualified to rate. It was primarily a dance piece, but there were a few lines in Spanish. An attempt was made to translate them via Supertitles, but, from my position, the translations could not be read. So, since I know no Spanish, and my dance background is slim to none, I have no qualifications whatsoever to judge this piece.

That being said, I have to say I loved every minute of it.

This is part of 7 Stages “March Madness” string of plays, each with a four-day run. I like the idea of 7 Stages hosting outside groups and giving them exposure – but I don’t like the idea of such short runs. But, I’ve come here to praise “Karibu,” not to vent.

In prior columns I’ve written about how the paradigm of cultural identity is often misused – how playwrights too often create characters who go on a “Cultural Identity” quest to satisfy some “Spiritual Missing link” in their own cultural identity. So, when I read in the program that this was a production of Peru’s Teatro del Milenio, whose mssion is to “work toward the valorization, preservation, and divulgence of Afro-Peruvian cultural expressions,” I could feel my judgmental hackles begin to rise.

What happened was quite simple – the production turned my prejudgments on their pointy heads, and forced me examine why I was hardened against the Cultural Identity paradigm. The play is a series of vignettes, shown mainly in dance, of contemporary Afro-Peruvians, their African ancestors, and a middle group, presumed slaves to Spanish colonists. What we see, literally, is an evolution of African dream imagery and ritual dance into contemporary expressions of happiness. We see a highly stylized dance of devotion grow into a dance of escape (enjoyed for fleeting moments by Colonial Slaves) grow into a contemporary tap dance of Joy. We see how American Jump Rope games and Peruvian Tap Dance routines both have their origins in the same compelling African ritual.

And, considering how most of the native and colonial pieces involving banging large sticks together and on the stage, we have a truly rhythmic and theatrical spectacle that tells the story of a culture.

And therein lies the crux of the conflict between my prejudices and this piece, which seems to celebrate what I’ve been railing against. It’s very easy to spot the prejudice of a writer who forces General Group Tropes onto specific individuals. We say that the person who says “Statistics show most people are , so, since you are , you must be is showing bigotry. What’s not so easy to spot is that the “Cultural Identity” paradigm makes the same logical error – “Research shows that people from < whatever > have a Cultural quality of , so, since I am , my character MUST have the quality of .” Basically, it’s prejudging ourselves based on criteria that is general at best and erroneous at worst.

Here, though, we’re not talking about individuals, we’re talking about the group. We’re basically defining the cultural generality in terms of what came before. And, more to the point, we’re not identifying ourselves with that long-ago culture, we’re examining how what we like today was born and developed in that culture.

Not to pick on “False Creeds” again, but if the contemporary character in that play had been painted as a strong, directed “force of nature,” we could see how that trait was forged by adversity in his great-grandmother and was passed through the generations (with variations). Since the contemporary character was basically a blank slate, the connections were tenuous, even stereotypical.

Well, I’ve rattled on a long time here about a production that is long gone. As usual, I’d be glad to have a debate about this paradigm or about this play, and to hear other reactions from those of you who were fortunate enough to have experienced it.

-- Brad Rudy (


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