Flashbulbspopped like firecrackers during KanKouran's concert last night at George Washington University's Marvin Center, but it's doubtful anything as simple as a camera could capture a show this complex and colorful. Assane Konte's KanKouran presents the music and dances of West Africa -- more or less; the 20 dancers and seven drummers come from Africa, the West Indies and various states, so there are a variety of accents -- and its "A Visit to Africa" is an artfully assembled tour of the moods and rhythms of the western part of that continent.
Decorated with huts and trees, the stage was a village, and the drums (led by master drummer Abdou Kounta) beat the tempo for life as well as dance. The dancers, whose performing styles range from shy to shameless, stamped and shook until they should have dropped from exhaustion. They sneak up on you, these dancers. One will take center stage, seem to rest and tease with a languid stretch, then launch into a torrent of steps, which last night ranged from stomps to jumps to breakdancing. A one-legged stilt dancer, a man covered with parched grass who twirled and shook in the sun to beg for rain, warriors in leopard skins they'd earned the right to wear -- all were part of this village.
The dancing, with its ever-changing layers of rhythm, is always a community venture. Everyone performs solos (and good though the dancers are, Konte's authority and sinuous control make him the troupe's star as well as its director, choreographer and costume designer), but everyone is part of the group. Though the dances are always entertaining, they deal with the most serious subject matter: war, courting and the implacability of nature. Although steps are often the same, mood and style change.
The final dance was a tale of a man "who suddenly became deranged" and how he was cured. After the Witch Doctor arranged things, and stalked around and prayed, the villagers danced. Some danced in empathy, some in fear, as though working out through their bodies what it would feel like to be so possessed, so near-dead. The victim, brought back to life and sanity by the thunder of the drums, began to pitch and roll, and finally to dance. When his erratic rhythms were calmed and he fell in step with the others, the dance's work was done