Judging by the wealth of performances, exhibits and seminars by and about native Americans available to area residents, Washington seems to be hosting an unofficial tribute to the art and culture of the American Indian. One such event, "Music and Dance From the Southern Plains," presented Saturday afternoon at the National Museum of American History's Hall of Musical Instruments, provided a brief but affecting overview of the movement, music, garb and lore of the Plains peoples of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.
Part of the Smithsonian's excellent "American Sampler" series, the program featured Charles Shunatona, a traditional chief of the Pawnee tribe of Oklahoma, his wife and two daughters, and two male colleagues. Shunatona, a blind man with a gift for drumming, flute playing, discourse and poetry, explained the significance of a number of instruments and other items -- mocassins, the peace pipe, a huge pine cone -- arranged before him, and demonstrated two authentic drumbeats as well as the bogus "Hollywood" variety (LOUD-soft-soft-soft). His wife Mary spoke about their people's various ceremonial and social dances, which were then brought to life by the younger members of the group.
Decked out in costumes festooned with feathers and bells, LeRoy Two-Hatchett performed the highly literal "Horsetail" and "Eagle" dances, and whirled and stamped his way through the more virtuosic "Fancy Dance." Kirby Kemble offered a somber version of the "War Dance," and was then joined by Two-Hatchett and the women in an updated interpretation. The two-step, a couple dance, sent the performers lilting and swinging along, while the ultra basic "Round Dance" allowed audience members to join forces with this affable band of folk.