Celebrating Marriage, Ancestors and Spirits, With Skips, Swivels and Twists
Published28 May 2012
“Don’t be all stiff” was one of many instructions that Chuck Davis issued to the audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday. At DanceAfrica, the festival that Mr. Davis has been running for 35 years, audience behavior — down to the mandatory hugging of strangers — is as important as anything that happens onstage. But the instruction is theater. A DanceAfrica audience needs no reminder to loosen up.
Neither do the dancers. United African Dance Troupe, from Queens, set the right tone with “Remember to Love,” a series of Malian and South African dances celebrating marriage. The troupe’s children skipped onstage singing, holding tin cans that they beat together and passed between legs in a fast jumping-jacks sequence. Their elders came on with scarves and strutted their stuff in pairs. The company looked amateur in the best sense, dancing neighbors giving their irresistible all.
At the beginning of the next section, an annual memorial to those who have “made the transition to the ancestral grounds,” Leslie Adjetey Klufio, from the Adanfo Ensemble, was both spectacular and subtle in the way that he added a shoulder roll or a twist of his body at the crest of a jump.
The BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble gave its best performance in recent memory. “Tribal Fusion,” choreographed by Youssoff Koumbassa and Karen Thornton Daniels, was an artful composition, with successive trios picking up a swivel and altering it. The whole company was on fire, but what Kishana Flenory did with the movement amounted to incineration.
African drums thundered, a tuba laid down a bass line, and the Washington group Farafina Kan: The Sound of Africa became “Farafina Funkdified.” The dancers responded to the hybrid with the equivalent of sticking in a knife and smiling as they twisted it; such pain was a pleasure.
The energy flagged a bit with the Adanfo Ensemble, from Syracuse. Three men in drag gyrated their hips at high speed: the paunchy Christian Kutte a goofy clown, Mr. Klufio a sexier vision. An ensemble warrior dance of the Ewe-speaking people, despite flashes of spirit, was almost desultory in its severity.
The solo sections of “Fume Fume,” a program note explained, originally represented possession by spirits. Here Eric Ansuade did flips and splits and a handstand. He juggled rings and hats with masterly aplomb. He made water disappear and reappear. It was African vaudeville.