In this world of tensions, threats and overall instability, everybody's got to have an outlet. Some people punch pillows; some punch each other; some drink. But Melvin Deal and his African Heritage Dancers and Drummers have found an artful, communal form of release: They dance hard, they send out powerful rhythms, they shake up the troubled earth and set it down aright.
At first it felt strange to see them letting loose last night in an atmosphere as staid and formal as Baird Auditorium, yet as soon as that opening drumbeat sounded, all that mattered were the stomps and the swivels and the jive and the sweat. First came Wilhemina Joseph's "Bata Suite," a Nigerian dance set in an opera from the women's feisty chattering to the gourds balanced on their heads to the play of their insistent knees and hips; with the men's entrance, sly flirtations and wicked gyrations ensued.
Anyone curious about the origins of tap, jazz and soul got educated real quick when two quartets -- one in bright colors, feathers and bells, the other in tap shoes and fancy duds -- tore through traditional and contemporary versions of Deal's show-stopping "Bawa Dance."
Finally, there was Assane Konte's Senegalese "Lamba," in which a spiritually tormented woman had her demon dramatically exorcised by a witch doctor (Deal), his wild-eyed, beautiful frenzied assistant (Konte), and a host of unhinged dancers and drummers. As the plagued one found release, so did all of us present in that high charged, jubiliant hall.