Wholly unknown and practically unannounced, the Ballet Mudra Afrique, founded in Senegal during the early 1970s by controversial French choreographer, Maurice Bejart, made its U.S. debut at Constitution Hall last night. The troupe's major offering, "Kumba (The Dirty Spoon)," is the most novel piece of movement-and-voice theater seen here in many a season.
The text is a Cinderella story written by a veterinarian, Dr. Birago Diop, and the animal imagery is fresh and free. Germaine Acogny directed and choreographed it in a melting-pot style. Stomping steps and pelvic gyrations of African origin predominate. But acrobatics, modern dance poses, Hindu gestures as well as ballet turns also appear. There is galloping, hopping and leaping with limbs akimbo and a loose spine, plus clapping and calling to abet declamation of the lines. Beyond immediate utility or fun, there often seems to be no reason for the mixture of elements, but there certainly is rhyme. The result is totally as engaging as Dr. Diop's fable, especially when the spoilt stepsister is commanded to perform Cinderella's chores -- with a sad difference.
The troupe's young dance actors hail from eight African countries and Switzerland. They were not identified individually but all are professionals and, though not ballet dancers, radiate the sensuality that is the hallmark of Bejart. The woman in the stepsister's role was of star caliber.
Ballet Mudra Afrique appears at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium tomorrow night.