KanKouran West African Dance Company proved it can change and grow at Saturday’s 29th annual concert at Lisner Auditorium. Longtime artistic director Assane Konte featured original works by three of the women in this local troupe. He also announced at the end of the concert that he is making room for some of his dancers to eventually take over the company — a move that is bound to keep the group fresh with ideas.
KanKouran was formed in 1983 by Konte and former music director Abdou Kounta, who grew up together in Dakar, Senegal. The company takes its name from the Mandingo word “kankouran,” meaning a guide who assists boys’ and girls’ transition into adulthood. Today, the company and its vision of keeping African Americans grounded in their ancestral culture is an important contributor to the District’s unique dance footprint.
Saturday’s performance was part of KanKouran’s annual three-day conference of classes and workshops taught by master dancers and drummers from countries such as Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Liberia and Congo.
The three choreographers took distinctly different directions. Trinidadian-born Antoinette Hercules Connell moved dancers across, off and back onto the stage in a visually complex work (“Shango Baptist/Lamba”) that presented her take on the connection between a type of spiritual West African dance (Lamba) and the spiritual dance of Trinidad’s Shango Baptists.
Uduak Essien stuck largely to unison choreography. It was straightforward and effective. She chose to stage “Unek Itak-lsin” (“Waist Dance”) of the Annang and Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. This popular dance is characterized by waist twisting and hip shaking marvelously exaggerated by appropriately placed ruffles.
Veronica Hunte’s “New Africa!” combined elements of jazz and hip-hop with Senegalese rhythms and dance to create “AfriAmerika” dance fusion replete with fluorescent costumes. It was brash and instantly likable.
The second half of the program featured children and adults from the company’s school.
The fact that KanKouran’s creative energy doesn’t only flow from top down, but also burbles up from the dancers, is a good sign. With this in place, the company has the means to re-create itself and ensure its survival.
Squires is a freelance writer.