Cultural Performance

Fourth of July, Anchorage Style (2007)

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

It is the 241st birthday of the United States of America. For the 231st party, in 2007, I was in Anchorage, living the Alaska dream. On a typically cloudy Anchorage July day, I walked from my nearby home to downtown and caught the annual Fourth of July parade.

These parades are magnificent in Alaska. Alaskans know how to make them inclusive and celebratory for everyone who calls the Great Land home. They show participants what community means, because in a harsh place, you have to rely on others. You really cannot do it alone.

The parade in Anchorage also brought back fond memories of seeing July 4 parades in Sitka, where I once lived briefly in 1992, and then visited for a Fourth of July in 2004.

The 2007 parade in Anchorage featured a diverse stream of floats and bands, from the U.S. military, the city’s diverse ethnic communities, musicians of all kinds and the LGBTQ community. If you cannot make it to Alaska for a Fourth of July parade, you can enjoy this one from a decade back. Have a great holiday.

Rueda flash mob hits downtown Portland, dancing ensues

Rueda de casino is a hypnotically cool dance from Cuba that uses Cuban partner dance patterns called casino to traditional Cuban rhythms that today we know mostly as “salsa,” with dancers moving around a circle and changing partners. You can dance to salsa, traditional older Cuban dance music, and even reggaetone. Fun beyond description, really. Today this is literally a global dance phenomenon, like so many dances that have originated in Latin America.

A great group of Portland-based rueda enthusiasts and instructors, who band under the name Portland Casino Fridays, organized a series of rueda flash mobs at Director Park and then a bit later (after we got kicked out) at the park strip near the Portland Art Museum on Saturday, March 28. Bet you did not know there is such as thing as Rueda de Casino Internationl Multi-Flashmob Day. Well I did not until I joined the fun.

If you have not tried rueda, look it up in your city and give yourself some time to pick up the moves. There are hundreds if not thousands of instructional videos on YouTube now. Oye, baila!

Who is that big dude down front?

One of the hallmarks of a photographer is to be bold, and let no thing or person stand in your way of taking that great picture. Right? Or not? That depends. How important is that picture? That is a topic that I have debated many times in the past with other practitioners. The National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics claims that professionals should “treat all subjects with respect and dignity.” Really? Anyone see a lot of that at events?

Most news videographers I have seen in practice could care less about anyone when they walk in front of live audiences, obstruct views, disrupt paid events, and generally make jerks of themselves to get the 30 seconds of film for whatever broadcast. That is their business, and that is their product. But I personally find their behavior the absolute worst. I have seen my fair share of photographers demonstrate the same winner-take-all mentality. I am not sure if professionals and especially many more amateurs care about these guidelines. Most individuals likely adhere to personal ethics and standards. How important is your need to prioritize yourself over others, just for a picture of a cultural performance, or sporting event? That seems very subjective.

These days, it seems there is always that “big dude” down front, completely destroying the moment onstage so he (or she) can take something away and leave nothing in return. Today, I saw that in full play at the Iranian Festival at the Seattle Center. There was the proverbial big dude, and also big woman, and family members and friends, and many more. Lots of people were filming and running up to the stage and leaning on the stage with their filming device, including monster zoom lenses, camcorders, smart phones, pads, and more. So, I turned the lens on them from my seat.

Hey, big dude, would you please just get out the way, just this once? Thanks.

Seattle’s 2014 Fremont Fair, getting ready for the solstice parade

The Fremont Fair is now an annual tradition in Seattle, made famous by nude bicyclists. No, I am not going to show photographs of nude bikers. If you want to see those, you can use Google images, and you can find plenty of them. Instead, I wanted to highlight a number of the groups who put on this show for free every year, including kids, dancers, and lots of really good horn players and drummers. It is not quite Carnival in Rio, but for this place, it is what the locals do to fly their exhibitionist and performing artists flags and welcome summer.

I have a huge soft spot for cowgirls

Cowgirls. Now what’s not to like about genuine, boot n’ jeans wearing cowgirls? Absolutely nothing. I love ’em, and they put on an amazing show every year at the Omak Stampede, one of the funnest rodeos in the West. You can see scenes I filmed last year. If you are in driving distance, mark your calendar and plan to go, and be sure to give those fabulous horse handlin’ ladies and cowboys some big cheers during the rodeo contest. It is a fabulous show. (Click on photo to open a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Last Sunday in May at the Seattle Center

The Northwest Folklife Festival takes over the Seattle Center every Memorial Day weekend. As a younger man, I used to gravitate to this like the music and culture lover that I always was and remain to this day. I think I got busier and the crowds got too large, and perhaps too many people appeared stoned and the number of smokers became too unmanageable. That is a story for another time, and it is complex. Anyway, the vibe totally changed. That is fine. For small doses, I still enjoy seeing the music, the dance, and the diversity of people who will turn out on a rainy day to support the arts.

Kent, one of Washington’s most diverse communities

Kent is one of several mid-sized cities in King County. It’s entirely dependent on the automobile, and it is where many cheaper apartments are found, attracting many lower-income residents and immigrants. Today, more than 130 languages—from Afrikaans to Yoruba—are spoken in the Kent School District, the fourth largest in Washington State. Kent has become a prototypical “melting pot suburb.” (Nationally, minorities now represent 35% of all U.S. suburban residents.) And many new suburbanites come from abroad. Today, one in five King County residents identify as “foreign born,” and many are choosing to locate in South King County communities like Kent. Here are a few  samplers of how diverse Kent is.

Happy 450th birthday, Bard … we love you

As I get older, I think I fall more deeply in love with the works of William Shakespeare. It is his 450th birthday today. Happy birthday, oh great master of the human condition. I took this picture at a wonderful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Seattle’s Discovery Park. The play was performed by Seattle’s inimitable GreenStage theatre company, who perform the Bard’s plays every summer at many amazing outdoor venues throughout Seattle and beyond. These plays are one of my favorite things about living in Seattle. (Click on the photo for a larger image on a separate picture page.)

Abdoulaye Sylla and company showcase Guinean drumming and dance

I set up my GoPro at the floor level to videotape a performance by Guinean master dancer and drummer Abdoulaye Sylla and his troupe of fellow Guinean percussionists. I then caught a frame of the videotape and turned it into a still. I think the GoPro lends a style all its own music and dance recording. And, as usual, I enjoyed the show of the many fine West African artists who call the Seattle area home. This is just for fun.

Monette Marino leads Guinean drumming classes in Seattle

I had the good fortune of stumbling on master drummer/percussionist/musician Monette Marino yesterday. She taught some amazing classes at the World Rhythm Festival in Seattle over the April 5-6 weekend. Jump to 1:40 to catch some of her riffs; all were smoking hot. Her enthusiasm was contagious and the energy in the room was pulsing. This was filmed with a GoPro (still experimenting with it for many settings), using a consumer-level and portable external mic. This low-tech set up does not do her musicality and energy justice. Her classes focussed on several rhythms from Guinea. Catch her in concert or get one of her classes if you can. Her web site is: www.monettemarino.com. She really honors the traditions she has absorbed.