This year's birthday celebration by the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, marking nine years of independent activity by the troupe in a festive array of performances Saturday and Sunday evenings, ran an even broader gamut of arts and artists than in past years. While the affair inevitably had its motley and disheveled sides, the spirit of shared elation ruled the roost.
The African Heritage troupe, both its senior and its children's divisions, was as stirring as ever, if not quite up to its accustomed standard of precision. The emphasis, however, as always on these occasions, was on the breadth and diversity of the Afro-American dance community. Besides African Heritage, there were contributions from five other Washington troupes, including the Wo'se company, D.C. Youth Ensemble and the newly formed Nafoli Griot society; also, troupes from Baltimore, Philadelphia (Chickuyu), New Orleans (a dance duo) and New York (Big Drum Nation troupe); drumming ensembles led by Barnett Williams and Yacub Addy; and a pair of guest artists from Senegal, a magnificently robed griot and his nephew, who sang and performed on African versions of the xylophone and lute.
The whole message of the evening seemed to be that the tree of dance which has grown -- and continues to grow -- from African roots has numberless branches, each bearing its own kind of savory fruit. Every generation was represented, from pre-schoolers to octogenarians. The performances entailed not only dancing but singing, chanting, recitation, drumming and the playing of a variety of instruments. And the choreographic panorama extended from African and Caribbean idioms to jazz, pop and disco.
During the Sunday program, African Heritage director-founder Melvin Deal announced that next year the troupe may have to vacate the Georgia Avenue studios which have long been the company's home, and that, in any case, a move to new quarters in the Lansburgh Building would soon take place. As Deal himself put it, the location may change, as it has many times in the past, but "the beat goes on." Long live the beat.