Dancers and drummers began Dance Africa DC's gala Saturday, pouring from Dance Place's lobby to join griot (African-style storyteller) Chuck Davis onstage. The show had just begun, but already the audience had been enveloped by African dance.

Local Coyaba Dance Theater (whose director Sylvia Soumah served as festival coordinator), Lesole Z. Maine, a South African transplant to Washington, and Ugandan teen ensemble Ndere aptly represented African diaspora music and dance.

Coyaba Dance Theater zealously blasted through "Konkonba/Len Jen," West African dances about planting and harvesting. The interweaving spatial patterns provided a welcome complexity, matching the dancers' polyrhythmic steps in which sharp heads, bouncing feet and soft torsos move at once.

Ndere equaled Coyaba's force in dance and instrumental sections. An ultra-fast hip shimmy, accentuated by beads and feathers tied at the performers' waists and ankles, marked much of the dancing. Akidi Betty took a traditional dance to new heights, moving nimbly even with four earthenware pots stacked on her head.

In "Uqiniufokotho," Maine incorporated traditional and contemporary styles, while struggling to reconcile the calls of the drum and kudu horn, each instrument representing a different South African tribe.

-- Clare Croft

Donna Kearney of Coyaba Dance Theater, part of the Dance Africa DC lineup on Saturday at Dance Place.