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A Weaving of Myth and Movement, With the Audience Helping

May 29, 2003

A Weaving of Myth and Movement, With the Audience Helping


DanceAfrica has gradually become as much performance art as dance. The annual festival, now in its 26th year, has proved its point. The African continent has been scoured for new indigenous troupes. American companies have successfully blended traditional African and home-grown concert and popular dance forms. Though there was a full complement of imaginative, vividly costumed dance at the Saturday matinee at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the ancillary ingredients have become at least as important.

Chuck Davis, the festival's founder and artistic director, is such an ebulliently genial master of ceremonies that for once audience participation, including hugs and handshakes, was surprisingly bearable. The procession of lively elders associated with DanceAfrica was affecting, as was the solemn remembrance of those who have "passed," with young women in white dancing gently with candles in the aisles.

This year's festival was also a salute to a young man named Sony Derazin. His fellow performers in the Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti, like him residents of Haitian institutions for disadvantaged youth, encouraged him to learn to dance after nine years confined in a crib. Mr. Derazin performed a lilting solo that showed no evidence of his cerebral palsy and was in turn paid homage to by the show's four participating companies in a joyous finale that had two male elders outdancing the youngsters.

The young male Resurrection dancers performed in two strong pieces that wove together myth and movement. Patrick Caporal was the gracious child soloist in "Asoto," replacing the scheduled Fignole Lexis, who had visa problems. The second piece was "Tribute to Neg Mawon and Haiti," choreographed by Jacky Asse, Mr. Davis and Karen Thornton-Daniels to music by Bill Nathan. It was performed with the dancers of the children's BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble. The soloists were Mr. Caporal and Jamal Ara Calendar.

The six delicately lusty female dancers of the Philadelphia-based Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble moved as if possessed by the drumming that accompanied them in "Fula Fare," a rhythmically intricate dance of the Peul or Fulani people of West Africa. The performers of the Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago could have gotten by with chanting out a telephone directory, so dazzling were their costumes and masklike painted faces. They did not, however, and the winding patterns of "Balante" and "Soli" were a special pleasure.

The choreographers were Abdoulaye Camara, with Idy Ciss and Amaniyea Payne, and Youssouf Koumbassa. The personable company musicians were just as dynamic in "Djimbe Drum Talk."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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