Silk Road Dance Company Article in the DC Examiner
‘Axis of Evil’ dancers come to D.C. cultural ground zero Nov 20, 2007 by Harry Jaffe The DC Examiner
WASHINGTON - I’m not sure where President George Bush was noon last Wednesday, but I do know where he should have been — watching lovely women performing seductive, might I say entrancing, dances from the part of the world he keeps threatening.
Dressed in flowing silk dresses, flickering with sequins, ringing with tiny bells, the dancers stooped and twirled and mimicked the making of silk in their native lands in and around Persia — what we now call Iran.
“We call ourselves the ‘Axis of Evil’ dance company,” artistic director Laurel Victoria Gray told the noontime crowd that had come to see her troupe. Around 150 people sat in the brand new Sidney Harman Center on F Street for the first Happenings at the Harman.
Laurel Gray was joking, of course. Gray’s group is the Silk Road Dance Ensemble, an award-winning, tiny company based in Washington. But her dancers do perform pieces from lands along the ancient Silk Road, from China to Europe. These lands might be better called Bloody Road these days; they cut through Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
All joking aside, the dance ensemble’s appearance last week at the Harmon was a sort of cultural explosion in downtown Washington, thanks to the expanded Shakespeare Theatre. Last month, the theater company opened its new Harman Center for the Arts, around the corner from its original Lansburgh Theatre. This month, the arts company unveiled its weekly free performance programs, every Wednesday at noon.
“This whole neighborhood is alive, daytime and nighttime,” Shakespeare artistic director Michael Kahn told me.
Indeed, the part of town we describe loosely as Chinatown, Gallery Place and Penn Quarter has become the cultural centerpiece of the Washington region. It now has a half-dozen theaters, from the National and Warner to Woolly Mammoth and the two Shakespeares; the Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum; plenty of art galleries, movie theaters and the Spy Museum. The Verizon Center is celebrating its 10th year.
“When I came to Washington, this part of town was a ruin,” Kahn said. “No one was down here 15 years ago when we opened the Lansburgh Theatre.”
True enough. Seventh Street was Washington’s market street 100 years ago. It became an urban dead zone until the cultural community resurrected it in the past two decades. “We’re right in the middle of where we’re supposed to be,” Kahn says.
I caught up with some of the Silk Road dancers after the performance. Some had family roots along the Silk Road; some were intrigued by the dances and the clothes. Most were returning to the normal lives of law offices or classrooms or caring for children.
But everyone who saw them perform was touched by the beauty and grace of cultures that have been making song and dance thousands of years along the Silk Road.
Perhaps President Bush should invite them to the White House.
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