Thursday, May 3, 2018

At Harlem Stage, e-Moves celebrates contemporary dance artists of Africa and diaspora

Nubian Néné, one of the pop-up performers
for this season's e-moves festival of dance at Harlem Stage
(photo: Alain Wong)

Omari Mizrahi on the move for e-moves
at Harlem Stage
(photo: Robert Bader)

OMG! How to decide what shows to see this season? There's an abundance of worthwhile--indeed, downright exciting--dance productions around the city. I know the struggle well! So, please don't start throwing things when I urge you to get to yet another one: Monique Martin's e-Moves dance festival at Harlem Stage, running only through this weekend.

Martin's focus for this season is on Africa-based or Africa-diasporan artists exploring contemporary dance, as opposed to more-expected folkloric work from the continent. She has chosen Zimbabwe-born Nora Chipaumire, Lacina Coulibaly (Burkina Faso) and Ousmane Wiles/Omari Mizrahi (Senegal). Each evening also highlights dances by women choreographers in pop-up performances curated by Adesola Osakalumi. Viewers will see new, commissioned works as well as pieces re-imagined for the unique (and uniquely beautiful) space at Harlem Stage.

Chipaumire has reset her famous solo, Dark Swan (2007), on Shamar Watt, a man. Years ago, I saw the choreographer dance it; quite recently, I was fortunate to see Watt show it in a tiny corner of Chelsea's Rubin Museum where I sat perhaps not more than a foot away from him. Both artists are electrifying. But the visual intensity of this iteration for Harlem Stage is enhanced by the meeting of the brooding darkness of the space and the stark, handheld light trained on Watt and his white shirt. Dark Swan re-purposes a Russian ballet archetype as a symbol and expression of resistance, paying tribute to the determination of Africa's women.

Coulibaly adapted to the loss of his partner, Ibrahim Zongo--due to visa issues--for this world premiere of his duet, Sen Koro la (The Rite of Initiates). He adapted so beautifully, in fact, that when the audience was later informed that the "solo" we had watched was meant to be a duet, some of us gasped in surprise. I can't say that I saw much of Coulibaly's stated intention to promote "the humanity and culture of Africa, compelling the audience to appreciate its great diversity and immense cultural wealth," and I doubt this particular audience was in need of that sort of prompting. But we were treated to a solo of poetic sensitivity around timing (inhabiting the lush, flowing music but finding its own inquiry, thoughtfulness and response within it) and its own validity as a work of art. I do look forward to seeing Zongo some day, though--and, of course, much more of what Coulibaly has to offer.

A group of performers, billed as Les Ballet Afrik and led by Wiles (who dances as Omari Mizrahi), brought the house down with the celebratory Sila Djiguba (A Path to Hope). Here, music and moves of West Africa, AfroBeat, House and Vogue styles seamlessly and joyfully intersect. The young dancers making their unforgettable debut as a troupe alongside Wiles were Craig D Washington, Eva Moore, Milerka Rodriguez, Shireen Rahimi, Algin Ford, Yuhee Yang, Yuki Sukezane. I also enjoyed the masterful "pop-up" performance by Nubian Néné (of A Lady in the House Dance Company) in her solo, S T A N C E, another tribute to the self-determination and courage of women of the Black diaspora.

e-Moves continues tonight, Friday and Saturday with all performances at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Harlem Stage
150 Convent Avenue, Manhattan

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