Alternating between rhythms of force and soft lulling pats on an African drum, Aziz Ahmed made his way into the spotlight. He crouched, turning his attention toward a tiny girl in yellow, who reached up and slapped the drum -- generations meeting in a burst of sound Saturday at Dance Place. This intermingling of past, present and future propelled the annual Dance Africa DC Festival, featuring Washington's Coyaba Dance Theater, Baltimore's Sankofa Dance Theater and Chuck Davis as griot.
Drumming was a group affair all night. Watching dancers drum is intoxicating, their torsos rippling and shoulders pulsing with power. Coyaba blared a cacophony of rhythm in "Drum Call-Abdaa," the company's female dancers joining its men on the drums.
In "Saa," featuring Ahmed on drums, Coyaba belted through his athletic, smooth choreography, drawn from traditional West African dance, in homage to drum maker and musician Alhaji Camara. Artistic Director Sylvia Soumah closed the piece, kneeling in silhouette before Ahmed, her torso slipping side to side and arms wheeling, a corporeal symphony honoring the musical one.
Directed by Kibibi Ajanku and Kauna Mujamal, Sankofa made political challenges and historical points with "Conga Square." The work moved from New Orleans to Africa with the traditional dunuba, wlosodon and koukou dances. Dance gave way to depictions of slavery's atrocities, dancers enacting the torture of slave boats and lynchings. The performance produced a visceral response but relied too heavily on a difficult-to-hear taped narration between segments.
The festival continued yesterday with performances by Ezibu Muntu and Kankouran, among others.
-- Clare Croft