KWANZAA was created 35 years ago by Maulana Karenga as a way of bringing the African American community together. For five years Fabian Barnes, founder and artistic director of the Dance Institute of Washington, has found no better way of doing that than through dance and music.
Kwanzaa, a name derived from the Swahili term "matunda ya kwanza," or first fruits of harvest, "goes back to the agriculture and culture of Africa, where they would celebrate the harvest by playing music and dancing," Barnes says. His "The Spirit of Kwanzaa," Friday and Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, will include 55 students from DIW, Barnes's dance studio for at-risk and underprivileged youths. Guest artists will include the Dance Theatre of Harlem's Kellye Gordon-Saunders and Donald Williams, former Alvin Ailey dancer Kristopher Storey and members of the Philadelphia-based Rennie Harris PureMovement.
"The Spirit of Kwanzaa" is divided into seven sections, corresponding to the seven principles of the observance. "Unity is probably one of my favorites," says Barnes. This year "Umoja," unity, will be danced by Barnes's DIW Youth Repertory Company. "The way I interpret unity is with the children," he says. "I see them together as a group learning to understand the importance of each individual member to the whole and working as a unit." James Frazier, formerly of Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Philadelphia's Artifacts Productions, choreographed "Umoja" to display the young dancers' talents.
Barnes invited each artist to create or contribute a work that would embody one of the seven Kwanzaa principles. Storey and Siobhian Mosley choreographed a duet to characterize "Ujamaa," or cooperative economics, while modern and hip-hop choreographer Harris's "Students of the Asphalt Jungle" fits in with "Nia," purpose. Gordon-Saunders and Williams contribute an excerpt from Dwight Rhoden's ballet "Twist" to illustrate "Kuumba," creativity. (The remaining principles are "Kujichagulia," self-determination, "Ujima," creative work and responsibility and "Imani," faith.)
Barnes's "Spirit of Kwanzaa" began five years ago as a free event on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, and has since grown in breadth, depth and popularity. "People in the community enthusiastically look forward to it each year, and the DIW students have something to work toward," he says. "It's a source of pride and excitement for them. And it's wonderful that the holiday represents so many wonderful things for African American people to work for."
DANCE INSTITUTE OF WASHINGTON AND GUESTS -- Perform "The Spirit of Kwanzaa" Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. 202/467-4600.