Saturday, May 28, 2016

Building futures: a fresh DanceAfrica for BAM

Armand Celestin (center)
takes a journey in Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures,
the 2016 season of BAM's DanceAfrica.
(photo: Richard Termine)
The extraordinary Moussa Sonko
of Senegal's Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine "WAAtO SiiTA"
(photo: Richard Termine)

The charming Chuck Davis has stepped out of his role as Artistic Director of DanceAfrica--that torch now passed to Forces of Nature's Abdel R. Salaam, a former, and impressive, Davis dancer. But let's just call this change a further expansion of leadership rather than a replacement. DanceAfrica, now celebrating its 39th season at BAM, functions as an engine built to generate leadership in all directions--from its mighty corps of elders to the youthful minds and talents it nourishes, instructs and inspires. It's a village, and that village includes you, too, sitting out in the seats of Gilman Opera House, clapping, cheering or tearing up as you always do.

There was quite a lot of that last evening at the opening of this year's spectacular Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures. There was Baba Chuck and the always nattily-dressed Baba Salaam to greet; generous supporters to thank; nine young Scripps scholarship winners to honor; and one lucky dance artist--DC-native Kwame Opare--to congratulate as first recipient of the new Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship. Opare's award will allow him to continue and deepen his relationship with the National Ballet of Ghana, creating "new work that explores West African dance technique and aesthetics on the contemporary stage."

DanceAfrica welcomed a new Artistic Director this season,
veteran choreographer Abdel R. Salaam.
Much-loved Baba Chuck Davis (below) will stay connected
to DanceAfrica's community as Artistic Director Emeritus.
(photo: Richard Termine)

Under Salaam, DanceAfrica will pursue its own imaginative expansion, newly emphasizing a unity of African tradition and African innovation. The latter is dramatically represented, this season, by Salaam's own work, A Question of Beauty, with its visual grandeur and passion for ousting demons of Black self-hatred, and Marie Agnes GomisWho Are We?, which situates rigorous contemporary movement and traditional Senegalese dance within an imperiled environment. Her handsome, Dakar-based Compagnie Tenane dances that piece amid a gleaming and confining field of one-gallon plastic water bottles. 

Baidy Ba and Marie Agnes Gomis
of Compagnie Tenane in Who Are We?
(photo: Richard Termine)

Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures crackles with fresh energy and--at nearly 2-1/2 hours--benefits from a lightly-applied narrative through line that connects its companies and pieces. Central to this scheme is young Armand Celestin who takes an Alice-like step through an opening in space and time. Celestin's "looking glass" is inspired by Salaam's visits to Gorée Island's Door of No Return, the portal to the ocean that carried so many enslaved Africans west to the Americas. Lagging behind your typical bustling, photo-snapping tourist group, the boy becomes fascinated by this door, passes through and encounters all manner of dancers, musicians and wise elders. In many ways, Celestin stands for all of us in the house: DanceAfrica creates space and opportunities for us to appreciate African concerns--from environmental integrity to personal integrity--and African values.

But messaging isn't all. The stagecraft of Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures--sets, lighting, costuming--has hit an all-time high for sophistication and pleasure. And we thrill to the vibrant performances of Dakar's Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine “WATTO SiiTA”--in particular, its leader, choreographer and charismatic chief dancer, Moussa Sonko. I don't know about young Celestin, but--damn--I definitely want to be Sonko when I grow up.

Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures concludes on May 30 with performances today at 2pm and 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm and Monday at 3pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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Unknown said...

Hi I was mesmerized by the performance from Marie Agnes Gomis and I am trying to find out the song titles of the musical pieces that were used in the performance. Can you help?

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

Hi! Try contacting the BAM Press Office. They should have that information. Here's the contact information: or 718.636.4129 x1. Best wishes!

Wilson Christopher said...

Thank you! Yes I found out the song that they danced to was Djorolen by Oumou Sangaré. Those who missed this DanceAfrica performance missed a great one!

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

I completely agree, Wilson! So glad I was there, and you, too!

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