Myth And Match
West African mythology leaps onstage in the PG Rec Department's Asali and the Rainbow.
Thursday, May 9, 2002
If Dianne Lyle ever decides to give up teaching dance, she might be able to get a job as a storyteller. Some years ago the 54-year-old Afro-Latin jazz dancer undertook an informal study of African folklore, then proceeded to create a mythical story that could easily stand up to any How-The-Elephant-Got-Its-Tail-style fable out there. When Asali and the Rainbow: An Afro-Caribbean Dance Fantasy opens this weekend, audience members will probably think it''s a traditional tale, not a pastiche of mythical characters and events.
Lyle''s myth incorporates genuine Yoruba deities, as well as a central character invented by Lyle: Asali, a beautiful girl whose name means "honey," and who is chosen to be the handmaiden to the two daughters of Father Sky-Sun and Rain.
When the Yoruba god Eshu Elgba (AY-shoo eLEGba), a mischievous Coyote-like character, brings a golden comb to Asali to give to "the daughter of Father Sky," the inexperienced girl fails to ask which daughter.
As in the Greek tale of Eris (the goddess of Discord who rolls the apple into the party on Mt. Olympus, eventually inciting the Trojan War), the question of the comb''s ownership starts a fight. The comb is lost, and before Asali knows it, it''s up to her to find the comb and make peace between the sisters-or else her village will forever lose the blessings of sun and rain. Her journey to find the comb is fraught with peril and excitement, and eventually ends with the gift of the rainbow.
"This is a story I wrote because I''ve always been intrigued by Afro-Caribbean myth," Lyle says. "As an African-American, we have many traditions and forms of mythology. I wanted to see where those elements came from. Those things intrigue me because they intrigue me in my own life. It''s the human story, and we have to explain chance and accident and our own foibles."
Lyle says there''s another element of the story that has long been a favorite subject of hers. "There''s a running thing that has always intrigued me: the play between sisters," she says. "How sisters are so loving but can really get on each other''s nerves. I see it especially with middle school girls-the jealousy, the competition, but also the love and support they have for each other. They''re like sisters."
Lyle teaches dance to kids, most of them girls, ages two to 18, through the Pacific Grove Recreation Department. In her Afro-Caribbean dance class, she teaches the Dunham technique, pioneered by a dancer named Katherine Dunham, who went to Haiti in the 1930s and codified movement in black dance there.
As Lyle explains it, the style is based on isolating different body parts and working in plie and flat-footed methods-and a lot of energy.
"It looks like you''re absolutely letting go, but you''re not," she says. "It''s actually very controlled.
"The kids are very inspired by this dance style. They look at it and say, ''Oh, hip hop comes from this.''"
And Lyle feels like they respond to the storytelling.
"In African-based cultures, dance does tell a story," she says. "So instead of saying, ''Okay, here''s dance number one, and it''s a lot of unrelated movement,'' I wanted to give them some sort of story. I love modern, just the beauty of the movement, but you see in video dancing that the movements aren''t connected to the song. And they want to tell the story in dance. So it makes them feel part of a larger whole, too."
Asali and the Rainbow: An Afro-Caribbean Dance Fantasy plays Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm at Pacific Grove Middle School Auditorium, 835 Forest Ave, PG. $5. 372-0375.