Seven drums and their African masters marched and swayed onto the stage of Howard University's Cramton Auditorium on Saturday evening to open the 13th annual DanceAfrica D.C. The program ended with the rhythm-possessed bodies of 23 hip-hop dancers filling the same space. Along the way, there were lessons about the connections between there and here, and then and now.
DanceAfrica, which bills itself as the nation's largest annual celebration of African dance and culture, began in New York and has spread to several U.S. cities. D.C.'s Dance Place is the event's national coordinator. Dance Place Director Carla Perlo and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis aim to both teach and entertain.
This year's program set out to show the roots of hand dance, step dance and hip-hop by juxtaposing the dances with the rituals of Ghana, Mali, Senegal and other countries.
The evening began with lessons in the participatory nature of African gatherings, followed by several traditional drum and dance rituals. Performers from Gambia, Ivory Coast and other parts of West Africa demonstrated the fluid, vital immersion in complex polyrhythms so characteristic of African dance.
The program segued to some hand dance numbers, a swing-era sub-genre of step dancing that evolved here in Washington, performed by members of the District's Smooth and EZ Hand Dance Institute. In "Attitude and Vine," Lawrence Bradford and B.J. Jones delivered a sensational demonstration of the form's cool, insinuating style.
After intermission, the same formula of ancient to modern, ancestral to descendant led to a turn by D.C. Showbiz Kids. When these wildly energized, superbly conditioned young dancers performed "Revolution," a ferocious example of synchronized hip-hop, they closed a circle to reveal an unbroken continuum from the African dancing ground to the American dance floor.
The Boredoms didn't exactly play any songs from their latest album, "Super Ae," during their show Sunday at the 9:30 club. The Japanese experimental-rock sextet would never do anything so banal. Still, the band's performance did partake of that album's spirit and sound.
The Boredoms are known for anarchic, seemingly disconnected musical assaults. In previous Washington appearances, the group showed little regard for structure, cohesiveness or gradual transitions. Sunday's concert, however, was based on extended grooves, which suited a band that now has three percussionists. Exuberant singer-keyboardist eYe Yamataka, whose unruly ponytail made him look like a Japanese Rasta, sometimes unleashed his trademark scream but more frequently led cyclical chants.
The band's performance consisted of only two parts: a 60-minute medley that constituted the main set and a 10-minute piece that served as the encore. The former opened with a rippling, burbling vamp that slowly swelled in a manner reminiscent of the Feelies, concluding with a galvanizing refrain of "Super Shine." In between, the music shifted tempo and direction several times yet sustained an organic flow. For these sonic cutups to combine their customary intensity with newfound coherence was a surprise, and not an unwelcome one.