Perhaps ice dance just shouldn't have "country/folk" as its original dance theme. In this whitest event in the whitest sport, one which has seen no end of Carmens and Scheherezades and Don Quixotes as envisioned by Russian composer Ludwig Minkus and Bravehearts and Henry V's, perhaps the folk dances of indigenous peoples are best left alone. What a strange parade of hillbillies and extras from Fiddler on the Roof
and flamenco dancers that was. Did it make you as uncomfortable as it made me? Even the mournful and listless rendition of "Have Nagila", though performed by Actual Real Israelis seemed kitschy.
The only reason I don't put Meryl Davis and Charlie White's Devdas
program into the same category is that it isn't some white person's broad-brush interpretation of Indian folk dance; they did it right, with an Indian choreographer -- and the program has been embraced by the experts -- the people of India
Check the statistics on the OD videos that have been posted on YouTube, and most of the views are by people in India. The program is mentioned on several Web sites celebrating Indian culture. Some of Rajendra's own friends even got e-mails from people in India, telling them they had to check out these American ice dancers.
Like most winter sports, skating isn't very big in India. But people there were impressed — and proud — that American skaters were showcasing their culture.
"This is the new world......of globalization! I am so proud of my heritage! way to go!!," one person who watched the video on YouTube wrote.
"It makes me feel good that something Indian is being shown," said Dr. Shekar Pushpala, a doctor in Indianapolis who was sent the video by a friend in India.
By the end of October, eight or nine people had sent Usman Ahmed links to the video, urging him to post it on his "My Life is Desi" Web site, which is devoted to South Asian culture.
Perhaps it's a shame that it takes white people to bring another culture into the white mainstream, but the process with Indian culture was already underway last year when a white British director's film set in Mumbai, Slumdog Millionaire
, took home an armload of Academy Awards.
But then there's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, whose "aboriginal"-themed costumes, though toned down from early-season competitions in which the flesh-colored "illusion" was much darker, giving the whole thing an even stronger air of minstrelsy, still looked like something that would be right at home in one of those racially-broad 1940's Warner Bros. cartoons
Here's their program, and the pre-uproar costumes, from an earlier competition:
Give them credit for doing something really, really different, but I think the same effect could have been achieved with makeup and less minstrely costumes. Still, while I was watching the program, I couldn't help but have the sense that I'd seen this program before -- or something very, very similar. And indeed, we did -- in 1988. It was Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, but it was their Christopher Dean-choreographed program, not their costumes, that created the uproar.
Here's the Duchesnays' program from the 1988 World Championships.
Labels: 2010 Olympics, figure skating