Festival of Nations

Roma Dancers

Sometimes, I wake up crabby. Sometimes, I let her sleep. Today’s launch hour wasn’t as early as yesterdays was, but still there was some grumbling. Even a seafood avocado toast breakfast did little to mollify her. Anyway, we got out-the-door on time and made it to Tower Grove Park by nine. I was trying to get going early enough to beat the heat, but more importantly also beat the crowds. Today, in addition to hosting the usual Saturday farmer’s market, the park was also hosting the Festival of Nations. This annual event was on again this year after a two-year hiatus. To make matters worse, the adjoining Missouri Botanical Gardens was hosting their official grand opening of the new visitor’s center, with free admission. Parking was going to be a bear.

Laotian Parrot Puppets

It is always hot the weekend of this festival. The festival’s combination of heat, humidity and humanity makes for a terrible triumvirate to overcome, but this festival brings with it a trio of attractions with which to do this with—song and dance, arts and crafts, and food, lots and lots of different foods. This festival doubles as a fundraiser for almost every ethnic charity in town. We arrived at the park an hour before the festival was scheduled to open and already parking was becoming a problem. Usually, we bicycle to this event, making parking irrelevant, but not this year. I guess we are getting old. We shopped the farmer’s market, where I snagged a new t-shirt. After that, it was time to hit the festival. Most of the food booths were still getting started, so we listened to a little music and then hit the arts and crafts booths. When we finally got around to looking for food, most of the booths were already mobbed, but we were still able to find good stuff to eat. After our feeding, we decided that it was time to bail and headed back towards the car, completing our regular circumnavigation of the park. I got the car turned around, but traffic was stop-and-go, all the way home. 

Ecuadorian Shish-Kabobs

Into the Wayback Machine

The Red, White and Blue – Bandaloop Trio Rapelling Down the Face of the Continental Building

This photo is from 2013. It was a pleasant September Saturday afternoon. Under a cloudless sky, Dancing in the Streets had occupied the Grand Center theater district for the weekend. Streets were blocked, stages erected and some sixty local groups danced in the streets and it was free to all. Anne and I had bicycled to the event. This festival marked the beginning of the fall theater season. In 2013, Dancing in the Streets was in its seventh and final year. The pictured troupe Bandaloop headlined that year, as it had headlined the festival’s first year.

A crowd gathered in the street, in front of the quirky Continental Life Building. Writer, actor and former WashU student Harold Ramis is said to have modeled Dana’s apartment building in the movie Ghostbusters, after the Continental. Another photographer advised me to stand near the building, for more dramatic shots. Ropes unfurled from the top. With heads craned backwards, we waited in anticipation for the show to begin. To musical accompaniment, while facing forward, performers spider-walked down the face of the building. After having descended a third of the way, each group began their dance. With strong dancer’s legs, players would launch themselves off of the face of the building, each one suspended by their single cord. It was a death defying performance. Swinging wide, they flew out into space, sometimes pirouetting, sometimes clasping each other, before swinging back to land again on the side of the building. Wearing tap shoes, they would also dance across the uneven white façade, without ever breaking any of the windows. That would have been bad.

By the time that each group of Bandaloopers had finished their dance, they had also descended another third of the building’s height. They would then quickly rappel down to the ground, to the welcoming applause of the throng. Once one group of dancers was back on earth, another group would begin again from the top. The groups of dancers performed as couples, trios and for the finale, as a quintet. Of course, there were no encores and the show was over way too soon, but it was glorious while it lasted.

The Festival of Nations

Brazilian Samba Dancer

The Festival of Nations is always held at this time of year in Tower Grove Park. In the past, the weather has been abominable, usually both hot and humid. Not this year though. You couldn’t ask for better weather than today’s. Anne and I bicycled to the festival, thus avoiding its chronic parking problems. We arrived early enough to beat most of the crowd. We filled up on Jamaican BBQ rib tips that came with a side of cabbage. Properly fueled, we toured the arts and crafts booths. We saw a few things that we could have bought, but in the end, we came up empty-handed. After all of this tough shopping, we replenished ourselves with Nepalese samosas. There may not have been any heat or humidity, but there was still plenty of humanity and as the crowd closed in, we grabbed some lawn space and watched a few of the many musical acts that the festival hosts.

The first act that we saw was a Mexican mariachi band. They had all of the little kids in the audience up and dancing when they played the popular song, Baby Shark Dance, which of course Anne knew all about. Next up was a Filipino dance group. This group seemed representative of many of the performers that we’ve seen over the nineteen years that we have been going to this festival. Focused on maintaining cultural heritage amid America’s melting pot, it featured mainly children, mainly girls, who have been taught some of the ways from the old country. I especially liked what I call the candle dance. I would look it up on the festival’s website, but as you can imagine, it is being slammed now. In this dance two young women, each hold two red candles, with a third balanced on their heads. The question arose as to whether those were real candles or faux LED candles? Zooming in on one, I could see the melting candle wax which then begged the question, after each performance, do they have to pick wax out of their hair? The final act that we saw is the pictured Brazilian samba dancers. The high energy lead dancer stole the show. After them, with feet that had gone to sleep, I unsteadily got to my feet again and we stumbled back to our bikes.

With all of the rancor that is daily being spewed forth from the #RacistInChief, this day’s interlude offered a welcome relief. It felt like a balm, to see so many people, of so many nationalities, celebrating together. People of every race and ethnicity cooking and eating together, singing and dancing together and most importantly talking and being together. Love can conquer hate. So, let’s do it!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Dancers

The main Saint Patrick’s Day parade occurred yesterday, downtown, but the official parade, which always happens on the 17th is in Dog Town today. Dog Town is an Irish neighborhood that got its name during the 1904 worlds fair, because that is where all of the animals were housed and at night the barking of the dogs could be heard. Yesterday, Dan was entertained by Irish revelers, while riding the subway in NYC. Today, Dave plans on drinking some green beer. In Boston, a Japanese restaurant has been advertising green Sapporo beer, because after he discovered Newfoundland, St. Brennan took the northwest passage and discovered Japan too. On St. Paddy’s Day, everyone is Irish.

On Your Feet!

Bandaloop Duo — Way Up on Their Feet!

 

We went to the Fabulous Fox last night, to see the latest Broadway musical offering that has come to town, “On Your Feet!”, the Emilio and Gloria Estefan story. This bio-play is part of the current trend in musicals, where a musician’s life story is combined with their already popular catalog to create a winning theater package. Earlier this year, in London’s West-End, we saw and loved  “Beautiful”, Carole King’s life story. Showbiz has always loved to tell stories about itself, so this trend comes as no real surprise. 

“On Your Feet!”, sports a large orchestra (ten) and an even larger cast. It begins with the two families emigration from Cuba, covers childhood, their early music careers, breakout success, the 1990 bus accident and its aftermath. All of which is punctuated with the steady beat of their popular hit songs. As is de rigueur with these bio-plays the finale is accompanied by endless encores, where all of the hits that you’ve been patiently waiting for are finally performed. It was an enjoyable show and by its end, everyone in the audience was on their feet.

While, searching for a suitable graphic to accompany this post, I happened upon the above picture of a couple of dancers from Bandaloop, an acrobatic dance troupe, They came to town in 2013 and performed around the corner from the Fox, by rappelling down the front face of the twenty-story Continental Life Building. They headlined Dancing in the Streets and seemed a good fit here.