When you live in a place like Orono, Maine, it’s easy to feel cut off from the rest of the world and forget all the wonders the other 194 countries out there have to offer. The 2018 International Dance Festival held at the University of Maine brought all those wonders right here. Music and dance are universal, and spread joy and celebration like nothing else. This past Saturday, Feb. 17, people from all walks of life congregated at the Collins Center of the Arts to witness this truth.
The afternoon showing began at 2 p.m. and was followed by a 7 p.m. showing. Students, faculty and community members streamed into the auditorium until seats were sparse and the mood was anticipatory. Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Jeff St. John began the introductions by thanking the audience for their support, and proclaiming the show to be “one of the best events of the year, because it’s for everyone…people of all ages…people from all places.” St. John also thanked the international students participating as dancers, noting that “they enrich the university and they enrich all of us.”
The charismatic Chris Mares was the host of this year’s festival. Mares noted that the UMaine campus plays host to over 400 international students each semester and remarked on his deep respect for their drive and intelligence.
The first performance was a dance from China, titled “Qing She” (Madame White Snake). The dance told the story of an ancient love legend through five female dancers equipped with fans and umbrellas. Traditional Chinese music complemented their elegant and feminine performance.
Next up was Betelhem Solomon Abay from Ethiopia. Dancing to an infectious beat, Abay bounced her shoulders perfectly in time with the music, warranting applause from the audience. She was donned in traditional dress from her homeland, and certainly left an impression long after the lights dimmed her off.
And what’s an International Dance Festival without representation from the United States? A roaring twenties-inspired flapper routine was executed by four elderly ladies dolled up in short wigs and shorter dresses. Immediately ensuing was “Sibling Rivalry,” an impressive pop routine by young siblings Owen and Ruby Beane. Their comedic and adorable stage presence was an audience favorite, and both were able to highlight their unique dancing abilities.
The following performance was titled “Moon in the Water” from the Tibetan region in China. Lily Crane executed an elegant and relaxed Tibetan dance wearing a long-sleeved gown native to her country.
Iran was next up to showcase their culture’s dance skills, and chose a group choreographed routine titled “Four Seasons.” An array of young girl dancers wore colorful and flowing skirts, with a couple of male dancers paired off with older women dancers.
For a special treat exclusive to the afternoon showing, an Afro-Brazilian inspired dance titled “Milonga” featured two stunning female dancers tangoing across the stage together. Both wore glamorous gowns and sky-high heels, perfect for emphasizing their advanced footwork.
Concluding the first act was a Mama Africa dance, and it really got the audience going. Spectators clapped along as a group of young dancers jived to a mix of traditional and modern African musical influences. In a beautiful finale, the flags of Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana were proudly waved by participants.
A brief intermission was planned as to allow the audience time to stretch and check out the sponsored tables in the Center’s atrium.
The show was quick to resume, and a Brazilian group began the second act with an impressive array of Capoeira Uma Terra dance moves. The athletic and martial arts infused dancing was punctuated by drumming and clapping.
Another afternoon-only special was a Korean performance by Shiwa Noh. The lighting mimicked moonlight and the graceful dancing paired with the delicate costuming told a story of love and celebration.
Following Korea was a performance by the “Celtic Kittens” described culturally as “Celtic infused with Russian Gypsy and Spanish flair.” The Celtic influences could be seen in the stunningly sparkly green dresses worn by the four backup dancers, and the Russian Gypsy influence was apparent in the styling of the main dancer. Her vibrant red and black gown was adorned with copious ruffles, which she flounced around to add additional movement to the piece.
Maryam Kashkooli took the stage next to perform a “Persian Mystical Sufi Dance” from Iran. Although the piece only had one dancer, her presence consumed the entire stage and her flowy, deep blue gown shaped her beautiful dance moves. The height of the piece came when she began twirling, and simply did not stop until everyone in the audience was applauding.
Next up was Tango. The piece mixed traditional tango music with modern pop like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and dancers adorned in striking red and black ensembles stomped and spun through the piece.
One of the Festival’s highlights came in the form of a traditional piece from Kazakhstan, titled “Kosalka” or “Celebration of Youth.” Dancers Aliya Uteuova and Alyssa Libby dominated the stage with their youthful and celebratory presence. Adorned in traditional white gowns that flowed with every step, the piece lifted the mood with their graceful hand and footwork, and the dancers complimented each other with synchronization and coordinated movement. Emcee Mare commented afterwards that the sight was “absolutely spectacular.”
Dancers from Vietnam graced the stage next, to tell a “Village Love Story” through dance. Three female and three male dancers paired off and danced along to an upbeat tune. The piece intensified midway with the addition of prop fans and the introduction of electronic music, and the young dancers emoted their love through movement and music.
Last but not least was a colorful Bollywood inspired Indian piece titled “Desi Jalwa.” The group of dancers sang along as they synchronized arm movements, executing the details down to their hands and fingers. The beat was infectious and the audience clapped along as the displayed their dancing skills and homeland pride.
And all too soon the final dance ended. The whole cast re-emerged to take their bows, and it was hard not to smile along as the dancers beamed with excitement. The array of bright costumes mimicked an explosion of colors and emotions, and as the dancers joined flooded the stage to take their final bows, it was clear to see how happy they were to represent their native countries in this celebration of diversity.
Sarah Joughin, the Senior Associate Director for International Programs, took the stage to say thank you to all the people who made the event happen. “It’s always a little different every year,” she explained, “and that’s what we love about the Dance Festival…it’s really morphed into a student and community conversion.” The audience was full of families, friends, neighbors and faces old and new. It is truly a celebration of what makes us different, and in turn, what brings us together. Music and dance has the power to unite people from all walks of life, to celebrate sharing life with all who share this world.
The 14th International Dance Festival was made possible by sponsorships from the UMaine Office of International Programs, the Maine Multicultural Center, UMaine Division of Student Life, Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, the International Student Association, the Residence Hall Association, Student Government, Cultural Affairs and Distinguished Lecture Series, the Department of Modern Languages and Classics and Orono House of Pizza.