A Joyful Afternoon at Dance Africa Festival

Monday, June 12, 2006

Beads, baskets, shells, bells and brightly woven cloth. The visual feast of a bazaar at Dance Place's annual Dance Africa DC festival whet the appetite for a joyful Saturday afternoon performance, which featured the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, Lesole's Dance Project, Sarava Brazilian Dance Company and juggler Kid Clown.

Griot Chuck Davis drew the audience out with a rollicking warm-up that had people doing call and response, hugging neighbors and laughing. He set the stage for everyone to have a good time.

Though a juggler might seem an odd choice for an African dancing and drumming program, Davis linked the two by pointing to the discipline, rhythm and practice that all these arts share. Kid Clown was engagingly nonchalant as he tossed to sounds of African/soul fusion.

The three-member Sarava Brazilian troupe's "The Descent of Oshun and Yemanja" was short and sweet. The piece's somber ritual atmosphere was enlivened by the dancers' peach satin flounces and electric-blue sequins.

Lesole's Dance Project highlights modern African and Afro fusion styles. It is led by Lesole Z. Maine, who was born in a small township just outside Johannesburg. His small troupe presented a rhythmically crisp program of gumboot dancing, which originated with South African miners and has become popular with audiences worldwide.

Melvin Deal, legendary director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, has led the community troupe for decades with commitment and artistry. The troupe began in the early 1960s, but this latest performance demonstrates that its skill and exhilaration are renewable resources that grow with the years.

-- Pamela Squires

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