Llewellyn Smith tried very hard to weld teaching and entertaining, dancing and storytelling in his script for "Sankofa." He succeeded no better than most authors of historical epics. It's a cumbersome form that stunts the development of even the best ingredients.
A great deal of talent had been assembled by Howard University for the weekend's premiere at the Cramton Auditorium. To represent what was billed as the "survival of West African culture in the Americas" there were actors, drummers, the members of two dance companies as well as a large production staff.
Ossie Davis starred as the storyteller. He's a master of the voice, conveying not just character and meaning but even conducting the pace of the action with subtly measured phrasing. As his foil, who becomes the protagonist in this tale of the African capture, Atlantic crossing and the American centuries of suffering and survival, Kenneth Daugherty's Komla was always at the edge of hysteria. Was this the sort of character that saved the past for future generations?
Most of "Sankofa" was episodic, with narrative and dance hemming each other. Only near the end, when the story almost vanished and we were taken on a sightseeing tour of the Afro-Americas, did the dancers of Komla Amoaku's Africa-in-the-New-World Ensemble, of Mike Malone's troupe and soloists Fran Wickham and Lennardo Moses have the chance to let off steam in numbers that ranged from "folkloristic" to jazzy ballet pyrotechnics.
"Sankofa" is scheduled for telecasting in the near future.