Women for Peace Concert at the U.N. General Assembly

T onight I find myself at the performance of Women for Peace at the U.N. General Assembly, hosted by Mrs. Ban Soon-taek.

This show has African drummers, the Drum Café Dance Ensemble from Johannesburg. They were wonderful but ultimately lacking the authenticity our pulsating Togolese dancers and drummers brought to the Americas Society on Park Avenue at our event in 2003.

The Bal d’Europe Quadrille Dancers came next. Is this high culture or simply cultural elitism, I ponder. I don’t know enough about débutant dancing to differentiate. I am sure this must be the beginning of American square dancing, however.

The General Assembly is magnificent, searing a multitude of diplomats and other distinguished guests. I spot my friend Ambassadors Nathaniel and Dawn Barnes of Liberia. Of 192 countries represented, I learn only 18 have female ambassadors. The Ambassador of Latvia, the Hon. Solveiga Silkalna, presents a powerful voice for women everywhere.

The story of Jacqueline Murekatete, written up by the New York Times and Teen Vogue, is horrific. Over one million killed in the senseless genocide of Rwanda as the world slept, including her immediate and extended families. Our own past inaction in the face of her witness burns the soul.

I learn from the program that she was raised in an orphanage, then given a full scholarship to study at New York University by the Jerry Seinfeld Foundation. Brilliant.

I don’t know why I have grown so fond of the cultural performances of Asia, Africa, and the Americas over Europe – home of my own Anglo roots. I have lived in throughout Europe as a child so I am not unfamiliar with her rhythms. The sopranos presenting Rachmaninoff and Verdi, however, fail to stir me. Even a piece from Puccini’s Tosca leaves me yearning for more.

We head East to what the smooth sounding announcer has called “Exotic Asia.” The announcer is superb and I wondered how to draft him to help my own benefits. Every piece always has a place in my puzzle. I remain alert.

Ten Javanese dancers fill the stage and the gamelan music transports my mind to Jogja and Ubud. The elegant beauty of their golden headpieces, reflecting light up to the 10m. golden U.N. seal was jaw dropping. The light of Betawi shines brightly. The audience seems to share my enthusiasm for the non-European arts and the applause seems louder following the Indonesian dancers.

The beautiful blue quilt, my favorite color, with the dove of peace at its glorious center, hangs over the stage – reminding us of the Women for Peace theme in this cultural extravaganza. I wonder quietly if a $10,000 gift could land it on my own bed.

The stage now welcomes a horde of brightly dressed, smart looking young men and women. We have been able to identify each group so far, but who are these performers?! Brilliant blue and white costumes – Eastern European? Muslim? Tartar-like, the men wear cassocks and black hats to the women’s pill box-like hats with veils. The audience is riveted. “Who are these brilliant performers?,” all seem to be whispering.

They were introduced as a people who refused to “disappear into the night.” Elegant! Youthful yet mature. The women’s flowing sleeves are almost wing-like. Wow! All hell has just broken loose. The men are suddenly standing on each others shoulders. Male cheerleaders! They are mixing it up indeed! The men and women perform somewhere culturally between Moscow and break dancing. The crowd is electric. A boy now joins them on stage, similarly dressed with small sword at his side. The crowd roars its approval.

Our little “Ivan” suddenly has three little brothers and four sisters. Are they now Irish jigging?! Next, they become Slavic Michael Jacksons with a Highland hop – who are these vibrant kids?! The crowd cannot contain their enthusiasm. I could swear the children are yelling “Wepa!” – are they Puerto Rican as well? We have expanded so far beyond cultural boundaries at this point that we have morphed into global citizens. The crowd explodes into standing ovation. The program lists them simply as the Narts Dance Ensemble of Northern New Jersey, originally from the Northern Caucasus. Who knew?

Bailable! The Latinos take the stage – carnival! Dressed in black, the svelte couple slide across the stage like it was greased, fluid in their moves – poetry in motion. Their artistry is dynamic. The music is hot and he is flaming, almost burning the women in his arms. Now, flamingo! He becomes the matador now and she his pursuit. Fantástico!

Now for the Middle East but I am beginning to lose energy. The world-renown and highly regarded Dr. Simon Shaheen is on stage and he is excellent. His group – called Qantara or bridge in Arabic – fuses Arab, jazz, classical, and Latino music into a riveting performance.

I am continuing to fade. A Chinese couple – acrobats? ballet dancers? – takes the stage to Swan Lake. Cirque de Soleil must hire them immediately! One handed hand stands – on top of the outstretched arm of the man below her! How is this humanly possible? Reflecting her ballet training, he is now on point – on his head! Graze, poise, balance – they have it all! The crowd roars again.

We travel now to Tahiti. Costumed a cross between Hawaiian dancers and Big Bird, the women are a blaze of orange. Hips flailing, headdresses pulsating, Oceana becomes alive at the U.N. I am sure this dance welcomes the gods or their chieftain or something equally important, but I cannot follow it. My Oceanic knowledge is as limited as the next persons. The number is titled simply “Tropical Paradise,” offering few clues. Their hands and arms are mimicking the waves, perhaps. Now are they the rising sun? I know when I am over my head.

The finale – all singing John Lennon’s anthem Imagine with African drumming – was spectacular. Madam Ban Soon-taek and all 18 women ambassadors too the stage. My Liberian friend Dawn Barnes, resplendent in her native gown, stood shoulder to shoulder with other women from around the globe.

The night was made possible by the Alcoa Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and the Italian Academy Foundation. The Islamic heritage Society assisted, as did the Assael Foundation. The European Union Mission was involved along with the Suskram Family Foundation among many others.

The grand finale asked us to imagine there’s no countries, nothing to die kill or die for, all the people living in peace. John Lennon’s vision was brought to life this evening. It will be our task to continue it tomorrow.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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