Senegalese dancing goes beyond excitement, way past zeal, far above frenzy, into some kind of kenetic nirvana. It erases that awful distance that so often creeps up between performers and audience, and simply begs for communal participation, be it handclapping, unrestrained yelping, or sympathic swaying of the head and shoulders. It isn't the sort of dancing you forget the minute you've left the theater; rather, it embraces you, fortifies you, plays on in your brain the next morning.
Such was the magic that the National Dance Company of Senegal wrought on last night's sold-out, jubilant crowd over at the Warner Theater. The drummers started it all, beating out their incessant, infectious song and then the dancers started in, rocking their hips back and forth as if over some invisible, well-worn groove, splaying out their seemingly boneless limbs in a hundred different directions, whipping their heads around 360 degrees. Sometimes the movement came in great sweeps, lines, colorful blurs, and sometimes in isolated parts; arms rotating out of their sockets, bared breasts wobbling, feet stomping, buttocks jerking defiantly around and out.
The performers worked in myriad ways. They told a story, that of the prodigal Senegalese son who returns to his mother country, pays his respects to the dead, takes a wife, reintegrates himself, celebrates with his people. They presented specialty acts: creatures in black scalloped suits who strode bravely about the stage on a mile-high pegleg or a pair of stilts; a hay-covered whirling dervish; two acrobats -- one a contortionist, the other a cartwheeling daredevil. And they danced solo, each man and woman moving to his or her own muse for a time, then merging beautifully back into the group.
There was one woman, who, having danced alone, never quite dissolved back into the mass. Fanta Toure is a Senegalese Eartha Kitt; she struts and leers and stares you straight in the eye. Fanta Toure is also a mighty technician whose body speaks of struggle and labor and joy and birth. Better than anyone else, she tells the story of a dancing land.