KanKouran's annual "Visit to Africa" program has become a party as much as a performance. Saturday night, many in the audience at Lisner Auditorium, as well as the scheduled dancers and musicians, were dressed in the bold patterns, strong colors and supple shapes of African fashion. Extroverted members of the public didn't hesitate to make forays onto the stage to join in the fun.
To dance with KanKouran is a severe test of fortitude. All of the movement is top voltage. High-stepping, floor-pounding, torso-quaking motion fascinates these Americans paying tribute to their West African heritages. They left the slow, subtle and sometimes sly aspects of ancestral celebrations to guest musicians, drummer Abass Badji and Alioune Diop, who plays a 21-string gourd known as a kora.
The first part of the program was dominated by KanKouran's senior troupe in festivities based on the dion don dance of Mali's Wolosso people and the sabar of Senegal's Wolof people. After intermission, the children's company performed a dance based on the dialidon, traditionally offered by the Bambara people of Mali to their royalty. The idea of the finale, "Mansonko," begun by the youngsters and concluded by the seniors, was derived from the frokroba and mandiani dances of the Maninke people of Guinea. However, much improvisation made the material KanKouran's own.
Interesting additions by individual performers to the frequently used "running in place" step included the rond de jambe (stirring the lifted, bent leg from the knee down) and a set of jabbing arabesques. One didn't have to be in the limelight to participate, for even the smallest children in the audience didn't cry or complain but, riveted to what was happening on stage and around them, clapped their hands in delight and in proper rhythm.