Baba Chuck Davis opened the first of this past weekend’s four DanceAfrica performances with an invocation honoring deceased members of Washington’s dance scene — including choreographer Eric Hampton and former Post critic Alan Kriegsman — and recently departed black luminaries, including Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. It was a touching tribute, but perhaps he should have also blessed the District’s building inspectors.
Dance Place, the newly renovated Brookland venue, received its certificate of occupancy at noon Friday. That gave the staff 24 hours to prepare for the 27th annual festival and do everything from load the concession stand to hang the lighting plot. The latter did not happen, so the 2 p.m. matinee was performed with a basic lighting and the new windows open to let the sunshine in.
Three of the eight troupes at DanceAfrica performed at the matinee: D.C.’s Coyaba Dance Theater, Philadelphia’s Illstyle & Peace Productions and Baltimore’s Sankofa Dance Theater. After Davis’s invocation, 15 drummers from Coyaba emerged from the curtains at the rear of the stage, and the effect was similar to unloading a clown car at the circus. Pre-renovation, 15 performers would never have squeezed in backstage; post-renovation, you can fit 15 performers plus drums. The stage is the same size, however, and the hip-hop troupe Illstyle & Peace did not have enough room to get 14 dancers moving together. The cypher was not the company’s best, either, but it is always fun to see breakers do hopping handstands in time with the music.
Sankofa billed its three-work performance as a tribute to Angelou. The central number, FoliBop, was a poignant Afro-jazz solo featuring dancer Krystle Brown on vocals. West African dance is typically performed in a crouch, but the ladies of Sankofa got their upper bodies involved, too, elegantly rolling their shoulders and gesturing with their hands while their legs kicked sideways. It is a dance about the power of the female spirit, company founder Kibibi Ajanku said. Repeatedly, she asked the crowd to recite an Angelou line appropriate for the first performance in a renovated theater: “But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.