It's not often that a concert begins with the announcer reminding audience members not to come onstage until the finale, but such participation is always a big part of KanKouran West African Dance Company performances.
At the company's annual fund-raiser Saturday night at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, much of the house was made up of artists from Africa, the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. Participants in the African Dance and Drum Conference, of which the fund-raiser is a part, they had almost as big a role in the show as the performers onstage, their beautiful robes and headdresses adding to the festivities.
Director Assane Konte chose as the theme of this year's concert "Sounougal" ("Our Boat"), a reference to the unity among Senegal's three fishing cultures--the Lebou, the Serere and the Walo Walo. Despite their separate traditions and interests, they eventually put aside their differences to become one nation. The program, devoted to dances from each of these peoples, showed a strong sense of community among the dancers and drummers--and that ever-important third component, the audience.
KanKouran's dancing is about joy--the joy of life and the sheer, physical exuberance of movement. The contact between dancer and drummer is often electric. In solos, the two maintain eye contact, spurring each other on, engaging in a spirited artistic conversation. The dancing is fast and, though it looks wild, is extremely controlled. Feet stamp the floor with almost blinding speed, and arms fly out from the body at all angles.
The professional dancers were eventually joined by children and adults from the company's community classes; KanKouran is a big boat. When the audience took the stage, it was fascinating to see the same movements performed by a tall, lanky man in bluejeans and a little girl whose matchstick legs ended in enormous running shoes. There was special (and justified) applause for a woman whose dancing had as much spirit as the kids' but also the elegance of a great lady.
It's like that with KanKouran. When everyone is dancing for everyone else, the individual really has a chance to shine.
CAPTION: KanKouran's dancing revels in the sheer, physical exuberance of movement.