Togois a small land, wedged between Ghana and Benin on West Africa's Ivory Coast, but with more than 40 distinct tribes, its traditions of ritual are rich. Sunday afternoon, Ballets Djokoto made its Washington debut with Togolese ceremonial dances in a setting that, at first glance, resembled locales in its homeland: a landscape lush with greens and shimmering brown waters, the atmosphere hot and humid -- Anacostia Park.
At second glance, this was definitely the U.S.A. Ballets Djokoto was scheduled as the first event on Stage 6 of the Anacostia Riverfest, but the company van was late, so the dancers followed Del. Walter Fauntroy, speeches, a fife-and-drum corps in colonial garb and a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party.
The first thing the Togolese dancers did on the stage was to sweep it, for they were dancing barefoot and were afraid of splinters. The women, dressed in colorful striped wrap-arounds, their hair tightly curled, entered in a flat walk, hips swaying and elbows flapping as they played gourds and sang. The swaying became more accented and rhythmically intricate, with a leg lift every few beats. Soon they were in knee-bend position and then some of them were kneeling on the floor, using their gourds not as musical instruments but as if they were cooking utensils.
The men -- dressed in strings of shells, fringes and feathers -- also performed unison and two-part dances but, bent forward, they were stalkers, hunters and fighters. In these and bits of other dances that followed, the body is held loosely so it can respond to complex musical beats. There are virtuoso steps -- rhythmic jumping with the accent on the landing stance, dervish turning -- but the bravura is basically that of rhythmic variety. When a leg wiggles or an arm swings, or when a dancer prances on high stilts, the movement is never just functional or reflex but a highly controlled act of timing.
This was just a sampler program by Ballets Djokoto, a 16-person private troupe most of whose members perform regularly with Togo's national dance company. -- George Jackson Thomas Hecht
The piano series at the National Gallery of Art continued Sunday night with a recital by Thomas Hecht, a gifted musician who recently completed doctoral studies at the Peabody Conservatory. Still in his mid-twenties, Hecht possesses a rich artistic spirit and highly developed technique.
Following glowing presentations of two little sonatas by 18th-century Spanish master Antonio Soler, Hecht gave five Scriabin preludes (Op. 16) splendid, loving attention. The singing tone in the right-hand melodies was matched by an exquisite, subtle left-hand accompaniment.
Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor (actually his first sonata), with its wildly rhapsodic nature, was given a grand and imposing posture. The opening allegro showed fierce strength in the initial double-octave passages; the finale's scales and trills rang clear and firm with expert pianistic skill.
From Albeniz's "Iberia" Suite, "Evocation" and "El puerto" confirmed Hecht's velvety way with sonorities. Works from the third section of Liszt's "Anne'es de pe`lerinage" were approached effortlessly, with tight structural awareness, clever pedaling and seamless phrasing. -- Kate Rivers