The rarest of events took place last night -- a home-grown company danced at Kennedy Center.
Melvin Deal's African Heritage Dancers and Drummers is by no stretch of the imagination an obscurely local group. Its reputation is far flung, and even in its own back yard it sold out the Center's Terrace Theater with hardly any advance notice.
But, for The Kennedy Center itself to have planned this performance would have been expecting too much; Washington Performing Arts Society was the sponsor.
The opening curtain came up on a haystack as lovely as a flaxen head of hair. Framed by a sky-blue cyclorama, the stage could have shown a rural scene anywhere. The sound of drums approached, and as the drummers stepped into view one knew that Africa was being conjured.
When the spell took hold firmly, the haystack drew itself up and began to dance. It turned one way and then the other so that its many swinging strands provided a visual melody to the drummers' percussive sounds.
The haystack, as well as much of the human dancing that followed on yesterday's program, was of Senegalese origin. Its dominant characteristics are stamping feet, often in subtle rhythms, and snapping, contracting bodies with the prime vectors of motion inward and down.
Authentic as the steps undobtedly are, Deal and most of his performers are not Africans but Americans of African descent. It shows.
In its African heritage works, this company has a hard-core determination. There is none of the easy, relaxed air that even such balleticized African dance troupes as Mudra Afrique show.
It is in its American numbers that African Heritage has charm. With disco and jazz, the performers don't appear to be working but merely at play.
Remarkable in both situations is their discipline and sustained energy through the many repetitive stanza of these dances.