The pleasure of watching KanKouran West African Dance Company lies largely in the strong sense of community that threads through the group’s work. The dancers’ energy to power through high-octane movement sequences seems to come not from within but from one another. And the familiar ease they have with their drumming ensemble makes their response to the beats feel intuitive.
The group’s Saturday program at Dance Place opened with “Bougarabou,” a traditional dance meant to celebrate a village’s elders. The men, clad in bright yellow pants and tops, drew whoops from the crowd as they swished their hips low toward the floor. When the women entered the stage in blue midriff-baring tops and matching skirts, they instantly dialed up the momentum even more with sharply clicking knees and fast-stamping feet.
One peculiarity that was instantly clear in this work was that the current crop of male dancers in this troupe doesn’t quite measure up to the women. The women’s arms sliced through the air like buzz saws; the men’s were more like bread knives. The women’s knees darted up close to their chests, but the men labored to get theirs half as high.
Another work, “Giving Thanks!,” had a sound score that comprised both contemporary R&B music and traditional drumming. This gave the dancers a chance to show how effortlessly they can shift their style from smooth and silvery to sharp and swift.
The finale, “Jalidon,” should have been the evening’s crescendo, but it didn’t have the focus and direction that the previous works had. The other dances had clear themes, mostly centered on the idea of reverence for one’s elders and appreciation of one’s culture and history. But this one lacked that choreographic direction and didn’t make a strong impact, even though it was solidly danced.