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Peter Buffet's newest production of 'Spirit' to premiere

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Distraction, confusion, information overload - complications enter life every day in this technological age. Not too long ago the world was different; some believe easier and certainly today many are asking and searching for meaning and connection ? with something other than a machine.

Recognition, acceptance and living through one's Native heritage as a means of navigating our world and finding a better life are central themes Peter Buffet, composer and musician, has woven into his production of "Spirit - The Seventh Fire."

Originally choreographed for New York audiences, the first version of the show, "Spirit - A Journey in Dance, Drums and Song," won acclaim when it was broadcast during a 1999 PBS fundraiser, but had a very short live run in theaters on the East coast.

Limited financial backing and loss of artistic control dogged the show's creators because they were convinced success meant New York City.

"We were boxed in conceptually several years ago because we felt that we had to go to Broadway to have a show," explained Phil Morgan, writer and director.

"What I learned from the last show is that you can create something, but if you're not the money behind it, you lose control and it can go to places you wouldn't necessarily want it to go," said Buffet.

This time Buffet and his collaborators are spending more energy on pre-production and Buffet is investing personal funds in the program. They've recast the show adding a female lead, Candy Donaldson, a modern theatrical dancer, for romantic interest opposite fancy dancer Darryl Hill.

The show's producers completely discarded the notion of performing on Broadway. Instead they are doing outreach in Indian country, contacting tribal leaders and setting up booths at conferences. Buffet wants tribal backing.

"You could say it has evolved or you could say it has devolved back to its original intent. It's getting closer to what I'd hoped and more organic. This is our story and it will educate people about who we are. I believe this is where we'll get the best support," explained Buffet.

The production will be housed in an 800-seat tent specially designed to give the audience an "immersive" sensation. It can become completely dark inside during the middle of the day and provide protection during a rain storm. Animated clips and sequences from National Geographic's Lewis and Clark IMAX film will be projected onto tent walls under a simulated star canopy during performance.

The tent gives cast and crew the flexibility to take the show almost anywhere.

"It's a multi-media experience," said Buffet. "You're watching film, you're watching dance; listening to a band. You're immersed in the environment, something I'd always wanted to do and now I'll do it."

Two smaller tents flank the main tent, housing educational activities in front and vendors behind. The educational component is new and an important focus of Buffet's plan for this program. Tribes are encouraged to participate. Buffet wants to give presentations in local schools relevant to the tribes residing in each community the show visits.

"When people walk out of the show, I hope they want to learn more. Wherever we go, we'll have local tribal representation in that foyer tent and in the merchandise tent," said Buffet. He wants his audiences to know who the Native people in each community are and give tribes a venue for their stories.

Another important addition to this production is Buffet's commitment to give back to Native peoples. A percentage of proceeds from all ticket and merchandise sales will be set aside for grants through his Spirit Foundation.

Programs focusing on diabetes, domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse, youth programming, recreation and other family oriented activities will be eligible to receive a grant according to Phil Bautista, Aztec, who is in charge of the foundation.

Buffet said the Spirit Foundation already supports the Porcupine Health Clinic.

The show has already touched people in many ways. Comments from those that saw the original show are overwhelmingly positive.

Karen Robinson, Cherokee, was part of the complex world of computers and said she was out of touch with the natural world, herself and her spirit.

"I just really needed to step back," she said. I've pretty much adopted an Indian way of life. This (new show) particularly touches me because it's a path I have followed already."

Initially, Buffet plans to tour "Spirit" concurrently with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, following the trail across the country. The show will open in Louisville, Ken. in October and run for two weeks. Firm dates include Kansas City in June, Omaha, Neb. in July 2004 and Portland, Ore. in 2005.

A coffee-table book and a DVD will also be produced.

For more information about the new production, visit www.spirit7thfire.com.