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Batoto Yetu and Irma Omerzo

On Wednesday at Jacob’s Pillow, Harlem-based dance group Batoto Yetu will perform the world premiere of Ngola Dzinga, a tale of a young African princess who leads her father’s kingdom to freedom in the 16th century. The dance assemblage (who’s name is Swahili for “our children”) is made up of young dancers ages 6 to 18. Director Júlio Leitão began his troupe by giving free dance lessons in a park in New York, which drew kids in. Leitão claims that the goal of Batoto Yetu is not to produce dancers, but to help children be healthy and self-sufficient. Children who are involved with the company also receive tutoring, counseling, and speech-diction and African-American-history lessons. As a dance company, Batoto Yetu depicts the spirit of African culture and folklore, performing in colorful costumes complete with grass skirts and body paint.

Irma Omerzo, a choreographer hailing from Croatia, will make her U.S. premiere in the Doris Duke Studio Theatre next Thursday (Aug. 7) with Mi-Nous, a story of love interrupted by distance and other inevitable obstacles, told in an emotionally charged duet to electronic background music.

Batoto Yetu will perform (with live drummers) at the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (Becket, Mass.) Wednesday (Aug. 6) through Aug. 10. Shows Wednesday through Saturday are at 8 PM with an additional show on Saturday at 2 PM; the Sunday performance is also at 2 PM. Youth tickets are $10; all other tickets $35-$40. Irma Omerza’s U.S. debut will be in the Doris Duke Studio Theatre Aug. 7-10, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8:15 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $20. For more information, call Jacob’s Pillow at (413) 243-0745.

Starkiss: Circus Girls in India

If the term “starkiss” seems creepy, your instinct is correct. It’s a circus act in which girls are lifted high in the air and spun around and around, suspended by their teeth. It’s one of the feature acts of the Great Rayman Circus, which has been performing across India since the 1920s. The documentary film Starkiss: Circus Girls in India tells the story of the young performers (age 4 to 24) who perform this and many other acrobatic feats while living a life of almost complete isolation.

The girls—many illegally imported from Nepal—are contracted out (i.e., sold) to the circus by their economically distressed (i.e., poor) parents. For their own “protection,” they are kept separate from everyone else. They see only their circus trainers, receive no formal education and send their slight wages home to their folks. (They are allowed to watch TV.) Interviews with the girls reveal a complex range of feelings: homesickness and loneliness, yes, but also pride in their skills and devotion to their friends.

The oldest and most articulate young woman in the film is 17-year-old Anita Das (pictured). More than any other girl interviewed, she not only loves circus life, but extols it as an oasis from the dangers of the outside world. In one of the film’s dramatic twists, we see her faith in the circus shaken, and the true nature of her predicament revealed.

The film doesn’t judge the girls’ lives through the prism of Western moralism; Dutch directors Chris Relleke and Jascha de Wilde specifically eschew any formal narration, letting the characters speak for themselves. The believability of the various denizens of the circus, from the seemingly kind owner and his hard-edged son through the various performers who give their slant on the lives of the “circus girls,” is left to the audience. The fascinating result is, in turn, sometimes charming and more often disturbing.

Starkiss: Circus Girls in India will be screened this weekend at Time & Space Limited (434 Columbia St., Hudson). There are shows tonight (Thursday, July 31) through Saturday (Aug. 2) at 7 PM; also, there are matinees on Saturday at 5 PM and Sunday (Aug. 3) at 4 PM. Tickets are $7.50 and $5. For more information, call 822-8448.

The Philadelphia Orchestra

It’s that time of the year again: Those “fabulous Philadelphians,” under artistic director and principal conductor (for the Saratoga season) Charles Dutoit, are returning for their annual three-week stint at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The tradition of thoughtful yet crowd-pleasing programming continues; the cream of the traditional repertory is ably sampled. Another continuing tradition is the stellar array of guest soloists, which this summer includes Martha Argerich, Boris Berezovsky, André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Joshua Bell. Broadway and film composer Marvin Hamlisch will conduct the popular pops concert during week three.

The first week features performances of Johannes Brahms’ complete concertos—both piano concertos, the violin concerto and the double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. Opening night (Wednesday, Aug. 6) features pianist Emanuel Ax, who will be soloist on Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. Also on the program will be Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and the overture to Ludwig von’s Coriolan. Later in the week, Bronfman will be featured on the second Brahms piano concerto; Elmar Oliveira will solo on Brahms’ violin concerto; and the other orchestral works will include pieces by Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.

Evening performances at SPAC by the Philadelphia Orchestra begin at 8:15 PM. Amphitheater tickets range from $56.75 to $19; lawn tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call 587-3330.

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