ACB and AEF Celebrate Mardi Gras

by Karin K. Jensen - Alameda Sun

February 8, 2008 - Alameda Civic Ballet (ACB) and the Alameda Education Foundation (AEF) invite the community to join in a gala celebration Feb. 23 in honor of Mardi Gras. Participants will watch ACB's original New Orleans-inspired ballet, Les Bon Temps, eat Cajun-inspired cuisine, and dance to the Zydeco music of Tom Rigney and his band, Flambeau. Other featured performers will include Alameda's own Natasha Miller, Jeff Oster and Kelly Park. The event will be held at the Bayside Pavilion at Mariner Square.

Never celebrated Carnival? Mardi Gras (French for 'Fat Tuesday') is the final day of Carnival which begins 12 days after Christmas. The celebration dates back to Roman times when ancient revelers celebrated Lupercalia, a February festival associated with Faunus or the Satyr. When Rome embraced Christianity, the celebration was reinterpreted as a Carnival period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent. Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer Iberville, who set up camp on a bank of the Mississippi River 60 miles south of what became New Orleans. He arrived on the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France and named the site Point du Mardi Gras. New Orleans has been the center of the American celebration of Mardi Gras ever since.

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras: purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power) will be in evidence everywhere, including in the ACB dancers' costumes. Revelers are invited not only to wear these colors but to don the traditional masks (however, costumes are admired, not required). Cajun cuisine, originating from the French-speaking 'Cajun' immigrants of Louisiana, will be served. For this event, Patrick David's Fine Catering will serve chicken and seafood gumbo with andouille sausage, lump crab cakes with Cajun tartar sauce, and milk chocolate brioche bread pudding.

Tom Rigney, violinist, and his band, Flambeau, will play Zydeco music, an American folk music originating from the multi-racial French-speaking Creoles of southwest Louisiana. The soulful, heavily syncopated music is often fast-tempoed, joyful, and sets toes to tapping. Denise and Scott Brady of Alameda Vintage Dancers will teach Zydeco steps to all participants who would like to dance.

Alameda Civic Ballet's ballet, Les Bon Temps, is named after the iconic cry among New Orleans Mardi Gras revelers, "Laissez les bon temps rouler" ("Let the good times roll"). The ballet was choreographed by ACB director Abra Rudisill, and excerpts will be performed to Rigney's live music. The ballet reflects both the joyful wildness of the Mardi Gras celebration as well as the poignancy of a last revelry before the Lenten period of penance and self-sacrifice. Traditional Zydeco music often has a call and response quality, and this is reflected in the choreography, with groups of dancers playfully responding to each other's steps.

Attendees may participate in a silent auction. Proceeds benefit ACB and the AEF's Performing Arts Fund, which has the goal of bringing district school children to the theater to see the performing arts on stage.

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