Posted on Jul 24, 2013
5 out of 5
Growing up in South Dakota, no child needs telling that the world is awesome. And visiting Pine Ridge or Rosebud, as I did fairly often in the Sixties, I did not need telling that the dominant culture can be awful. The transcendent power of Plains spirituality has carried native peoples through thick and thin — and for well more than a century, things have been pretty thin.
All of this makes “Prairie Moon” even more moving and powerful. I carried great hope with me to Union Station’s City Center Stage, but still was amazed at the beauty and richness of the banquet that the people of Kansas City’s Indian Center have brought to us, in their first Fringe Festival offering. Moses Brings Plenty really lived up to his name in this wonderful hour of music, dance and spoken word. This is an astoundingly beautiful show, soulfully performed. Make room in your Fringe schedule, friends, for this company transforms the theater into a truly sacred space.
Quite a large company graces the stage for this show. Brings Plenty stands upstage center most of the time, maintaining the heartbeat on his big drum, but he’s just one of five musicians: Stephanie Kersley on the keyboard, Richard Garcia and Bobby Nelson of guitar, and the amazing TerryLee Whetstone deploying a literal treeful of flute — all enhanced electronically to create a sacred space in sound. Their music is rock-infused but firmly based in tradition. I clocked the opening piece at ten minutes, and nine more were to follow — one longer, the rest shorter, but no less mesmerizing.
As soon as the drum began beating and flute sounds float and cascading, out of the wings emerged the first traditional Plains dancer, then another, and another until we were blessed with no fewer than eight, all displaying the most beautiful regalia I’ve ever seen, gorgeously lit. I was reminded of all the nights, after waiting for the drum, when I witnessed traditional wacipis in some fluorescent-lit school gymnasium: the artists of the KCIC have taken dance and music to new heights of artistic accomplishment here. Simply, elaborately beautiful.
But there was even more to come. Mo Brings Plenty, Cultural Outreach Liaison for the Indian Center, has clearly been doing his job, and we are the beneficiaries. By the end of the show, a group of six women join in the singing and chanting, and we see a brief ballet, quite a beautiful dance with apparantly weightless hula hoops and another with more traditional-sized hoops as the show comes to an end. This is truly a diverse collection of fine performers!
Interspersed with all this music and dance are Mo’s stories and reflections on Native culture and values. None are very long, but Brings Plenty’s words frame and deepen our experience. We are introduced to sacred space — though most powerfully, we experience it! — then hear a story of a young man seeking guidance: this story comes into the music that follows, spoken in a manner that reminded me of John Trudell, another artist who’s brought Lakota traditions into the realm of rock-infused music. We are reminded of the Relocation Act that has brought some 30,000 enrolled tribal members to the Kansas City area. Mo honors our mothers and grandmothers, our grandfathers and forces of nature — all interwoven with music that leaves us room to meditate on the themes Mo has introduced.
Later in the hour, TerryLee Whetstone — an award-winning flute player — also speaks of the soul of the many flutes he’s brought, evoking the spiritual relationship between the trees from which some are carved, giving voice to the trees through the breath of the musician. After the show, I learned that Whetstone had undergone a serious medical procedure just the day before: his grace and dignity gave us not a clue that some doctor might have prescribed bed rest, rather than standing before us on the stage.
Such is the courage and strength that makes “Prairie Moon” such a very moving experience. I’ve really never seen anything like it, though in another sense — because of where I was born and raised — I have. What Moses Brings Plenty and the Kansas City Indian Center have brought us is truly a wonderful artistic accomplishment. We have so much to learn from these protectors and extenders of tribal culture — about our own cultural roots and well as their own. Do not miss it!