July 12, 2024

Styles Of Dance

Dance Styles Unite in Harmony

‘Drumbeat of Humanity’: Documentary by Yulia Maluta

4 min read

In the Vedas, ancient sacred texts of India, it is said that the purpose of dance is to “educate the illiterates, enlighten the literates, and entertain the enlightened ones” (V. P. Dhananjayan, A Dancer on Dance). Drumbeat of Humanity, a new documentary by Yulia Maluta and Transform Through Arts, does all that, and more.

In her exquisite film, which had its world premiere at Center Stage Theater on June 15, Maluta showcases many of the world’s dance and music styles, including Flamenco, Tango, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Aztec, and Hawaiian. Bringing this broad swath of world cultures to the screen successfully benefited from Tina Love’s expert editing.  As organologist John Martin III explained in the film, most of these dance and music forms were born out of centuries of trade between various cultures, but also from violent acts such as conquests, exploitation, and slavery.

Yulia Maluta and Ron Parker dancing a Milonga. | Photo: Jatila van der Veen

“We live in unique times when the human ability to connect from the heart may require an evolutionary leap of collaboration to tackle the environmental and climate challenges we face … This is the story of human convergence, and whether the drumbeat of humanity on Planet Earth marches on, or not,”  said Maluta.

Throughout the film, this message goes straight to the hearts of the audience with increasing intensity, as the musicians and dancers of Drumbeat of Humanity, all scholars of their art forms, offer many examples of how beautiful musical styles and dance forms evolved from the paradox of pain and suffering.

Ron Parker, author of History of Black Dance in America, explains that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began in the late 16th century and brought millions of enslaved Africans to North and South America, gave birth to the music and dance styles that we know today as Tango and Milonga (among others). “This is how dances evolve. A dance may begin in one community, but as it grows in popularity, it will take on elements of other communities.”

Screen shot of John Martin from the film ‘Drumbeat of Humanity’ | Photo: Courtesy

Kaleo Naea, Hawai’ian musician, explains how, through the missionaries who brought the German music scale to Hawai’i, and the vaqueros (cowboys) who brought the guitar, a new Hawai’ian music was born. Although the occupation of Hawai’i by the Church was on the one hand violent, as a haole (white person) who grew up in the Church in Hawai’i but whose tutus (grandparents) were Hawai’ian and taught him the language, Naea has a unique perspective and deep love of the islands. His haunting music, expertly combined with stunning views of waterfalls by Love, really brings home this juxtaposition of beauty and pain.

These are just two of the many examples in the film.

The last dance sequence is one of the most powerful: a classical Chinese dance about whales choreographed by Nan Sun, and performed on the beach by the Suns Academy dancers. While the previous portions of the film are tremendously fascinating, this final sequence, combining graceful dance sequences with haunting Chinese music and whale calls, interspersed with images of brilliant blue swirling oceans and underwater scenes, juxtaposed with footage of garbage floating in the ocean, really stabs at the heart.

Screen shot of Suns Academy Classical Chinese Dancers from the film ‘Drumbeat of Humanity’ | Photo: Courtesy

The point of this colorful and fascinating documentary is that, by focusing on the unifying power of music and dance, we can bring a sense of hope to a world in which it is easy to feel hopeless. We can choose to focus on the unifying power of the arts, and through the shared empathy that music and dance creates between people, have some hope of overcoming the destruction that humanity has created.

The film was preceded by several live dance performances, meant to give the audience a taste of what was to come in the film. The highlights of the live performances were the charming Milonga performed by Maluta and Parker, and a passionate Flamenco suite performed by Jack Harwood and Jesalyn Contreras McCollum (2023 and 2018 Spirits of Fiesta, respectively), with dancers from Flamenco Santa Barbara.

Drumbeat of Humanity is a must-see!  The message of the film is clear: It is within our power as humans to tap into the collective, creative spirit that is ours through the arts, and use it to heal the planet.

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