Godfrey Muwulya

NYTimes Review 


African Energy Celebrated Ebulliently and Symbolically

Published: May 28, 2007

DanceAfrica is always a trip, not only through African nations and their cultures but also into another world that proudly claims those cultures as its own. Chuck Davis, who founded this yearly festival 30 years ago, was the perfect towering, irrepressible guide, easing everyone into chanting, hugging and shaking hands during Friday night’s show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

DanceAfrica, with the Ndere Troupe from Uganda, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday night.

In honor of the anniversary and of Mr. Davis’s 70th birthday, Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the academy, announced the formation of a full-tuition college scholarship fund for children participating in its arts programs and the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble.

Two companies stood out in the ebullient celebration. One was the Ndere Troupe from Uganda, which presented a royal welcome dance, a war dance and celebrations of women, courtship, fertility and African energy. In “Okwerengyekyerera” women danced with up to eight small striped jugs on their heads, symbolic of the wise decisions that must be made to maintain peace.

The music, sung and performed on drums and ancient-looking instruments, was luscious and gloriously cacophonic to untrained ears. The costume colors warred with one another just as brilliantly. And the dancing was exquisitely detailed, each shift in complex rhythms made clear, and all of it laced with irresistible humor.

The second standout was Forces of Nature, and the powerful opening section of Abdel R. Salaam’s “Vision 5 — A Question of Modesty” looked back at the ways harsh representatives of Christianity and Islam tried to enforce foreign notions of morality as Africans were shipped as slaves to the Americas. Mr. Salaam’s lilting, sensuous choreography for the women was particularly striking, as was the staging.

That work was followed by a tribal village dance performed in front of an imposing altar to the gods. Here the choreography looked very like the performing in the program’s first half, by the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble, the Bambara Drum and Dance Ensemble of the Bronx, the Drumsong African Ballet Theater from Brooklyn and the Kulu Mele African American Dance from Philadelphia. Though well executed by dancers dressed in sumptuous costumes, the pieces were like fireworks: vivid eruptions of finely articulated lines and shapes that soon became familiar.

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