All good entertainers share in the pleasure of performing, but for the members of Odadaa!, making music and showing dances are also a way of signing the social contract. As Saturday's program at the Prince George's Publick Playhouse made plain, to join the community takes more than just learning one's lessons and working hard. One has to help in creating works of art -- at least if one wants to belong to the Ga people of Ghana.
Odadaa!, though currently at home here, has preserved its African authenticity. The performers are lively and bravura in a wonderfully casual way; there's none of the hard sell and self-indulgence that have crept into the work of several other African groups resident in the area.
One hears the entertainers before one sees them, and the effect is of a long procession approaching from far away. In fact, there are only a dozen men and women in the company. Once on stage, they let their music and dance develop from seeming simplicity through complexity to a totality that's surprising -- as in one section of a bambaya, a dance of Moslem origin but adapted to the Ga format.
The bambaya begins with gentle swaying. As the pace accelerates, different parts of the anatomy seem to go their separate ways. Shoulders rise and fall, the torso rotates alternately right and left while the feet, drumming on the floor, carry the dancer forward. Finally, the action becomes still faster and the different motions, without changing direction, seem to meld into one great pumping movement for the whole body.
The percussionists' polyrhythms, too, blend into a single pulsing at high gear. Yet, even at their most hectic and ecstatic, the group's singers, dancers and instrumentalists never neglect to engage in dialogue with one another. It is this conversational aspect of the performance that creates the troupe's strong sense of community.