The appearances this past weekend by the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers at the Dance Place had something of the flavor of a homecoming, since years ago the troupe's original quarters were just down the street (18th Street NW).
In the more than a dozen years that have passed, the company -- under the inspired guidance of founder-director Melvin Deal -- has become one of the foremost treasures of Washington dance, setting standards of performance, production, research, artistic commitment and community hereabouts. Hence, from every standpoint, African Heritage seemed a fitting and logical choice for the final visiting attraction of this year's splendid concert series at the Dance Place, arranged under the artisitc direction of Carla Perlo.
During the early phases of Saturday evening's performance, the unaccustomed surroundings seemed to induce an entirely atypical reticence in a troupe noted for its explosive vehemence, an effect redoubled by the somewhat hollow acoustics with respect to the drumming. As the program progressed, however, the dancing, chanting and percussion quickly recovered that firebrand intensity which is the African Heritage signature.
The program ranged across four strong repertory staples of recent seasons; an ingenious interpretation of a Bawa harvest dance from Ghana that displays a link between African body rhythms and American jazz tap; an amazingly virtuosic, celebratory Saba dance from Senegal; a Ghanaian dance of intricate step patterns which discloses the ancestry of the Conga line; and the powerfully stirring Lamba dance from Senegal, a ritual exorcism in which the fitful flailings of a possessed woman are magnetized into rhythmic coherence by the spiritual energies of the group.