Melvin Deal's birthday parties always have been special. Saturday night, eight companies from New York, Philadelphia and Washington joined the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers for their "11th Annual Celebration." The evening, at the University of the District of Columbia's splendid auditorium, celebrated not only the longevity of one company, but also the contributions of black dance to American culture. The mixture of African, tap, jazz and show dancing resulted in an exciting and coherent program.
The D.C. Dance Theatre, a collection of well-trained and engaging young people, made its debut in a jazz-modern work, "Untitled," to the music of Stevie Wonder. Director Neil Whitehead and dance captain Tammy Hurt performed their polished, award-winning disco duet prepared for the Dance Fever competition. When the young company joined the D.C. Youth Ensemble in a production number called "Dance Is," the kids, dancing as though their lives depended on it, stopped the show.
Youth also was represented by the Barry Farms Junk Yard Band, which make a whale of a racket pounding on drums made out of tin cans, and the D.C. Youth Ensemble which, in a solo spot, danced to Motown hits of the '60s. The Baltimore Dance Theatre, representing jazz dance, made fine use of the music of Charlie Parker and others.
Deal's "Nandom Bawa," a double pas de quatre for two African couples celebrating the harvest and two flappers and their beaux performing similar steps in tap shoes, is a fun and effective way of pointing out that the roots of American social dancing were planted long ago. Traditional African dance was performed in exhilarating selections by Philadelphia's Afro-American Dance Ensemble and Chikuyu Performing Arts Ensemble, New York's Sabar Ak Ru Afrique and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers.
The evening's only downer was Yacub Addy & Co., which closed the program. Addy is a master drummer from Ghana and his music was fine. A male dancer, chanting and shaking a gourd the size of a basketball, gave what was perhaps the most exciting performance of the evening. But the leading female dancer, barely marking the steps and looking bored, robbed this celebration of the rousing finale it deserved.