The scene in Salomon 101 Sunday afternoon was a far cry from this morning's lecture in ECON 0110: "Principles of Economics." Instead of supply-and-demand curves, the Education through Cultural and Historical Organization Performing Arts Festival presented stories of childhood, love and family.
The stories were beautifully woven together through song and dance by performers from native and non-native communities of Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Massachusetts and Portugal. They came together to share their societies' values and teach important lessons about respect, jealousy and vanity.
This was Brown's second year welcoming the festival, according to Geralyn Hoffman, curator of programs and education at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, one of the event's sponsors. The theme of this year's performance was "Celebrate — Song, Dance and Story!," and that is exactly what the performers conveyed. Whether gathering audience members on stage to partake in a Choctaw Indian wedding dance or telling the more somber story of the "No Face Girl," whose reflection is stolen because of her intense narcissism, the performers' obvious joy and pride in sharing their traditions showed through.
The organization is a federally funded educational and cultural enrichment organization established as part of 2001's No Child Left Behind Act, according to Merry Glosband, of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., who has helped organize the national tour.
Ten years ago, one of the organization's members from Hawaii suggested storytelling performance, which evolved into the festival of today, she said.
"We provide them with a theme and they bring their own stories," Glosband said. Cast members from around the country "spent only two weeks in Alaska making the script and then began a nationwide tour."
"One of the board members saw the performance they did in New Bedford last year and loved it," Hoffman said. "So we got them to come to Brown. It was wonderful and we invited them to come again."
Last year's cast included Nitana Hicks '03, Glosband said. "Nitana said that her first day as a freshman at Brown was spent in this auditorium," Glosband said. "With her family and friends here," performing in the show in Salomon "was like coming home for her."
The festival had an intimate, familial feel about it. The performers had a warm rapport among them that spilled over into the small group of Brown students and Providence families that attended the event.
Jose Manuel Vinagre, a Portuguese man from the fishing village of Buarcos, opened with a powerful song about his boyhood. The song set the tone for the entire production. As a boy, he said, he was mischievous but loving.
"How wonderful it was to be a boy, how wonderful it was to have a family and to have hope in the future," he sang. "It was like having a sun always shining on you."
Even though each scene represented a different culture, the performers conveyed their stories seamlessly to audience members. Traditional music and instruments, such as the Hawaiian nose flute — which, the audience learned, is used to send messages between loved ones — created transitions from one speaker to the next.
"Answer me, my love. Let there be no words between us, only breath, only truth," sang Ani Lokomaika'i Lipscomb to illustrate how the instruments would work.
The festival was equal parts entertainment and education. The performers drew audiences in with their words and dances and, in doing so, shed knowledge on communities that are generally left out of the limelight.
"This performance was representing a lot of communities that don't get a lot of representation on campus," said audience member and Hawaiian Kai Morrell '11. "It was nice to see people and culture from where I'm from."
The performance ended with a rapping recap of the lessons audience members should have learned. Allison Warden of the Inupiaq Eskimos, also known by her rap name AKU-MATU, summed up the performance by incorporating traditional beats and sounds with modern rhymes. Ending the festival on a note of continuity, Warden encouraged audience members not only to learn about these cultures but also to experience them in everyday life and ensure their continued appreciation.