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DANCE REVIEW : KanKouran Performers Share High-Energy Level : West African troupe members invigorate each other to greater flights of virtuosity and risk-taking in 3-piece program.


COSTA MESA — With bursts of explosive energy, the KanKouran West African Dance Company presented its "Diamono" (Roots) program Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center as part of the Imagination Celebration.

The troupe, represented here at half-strength, is one of the national touring companies of the Education Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, which created the celebration.

Assane Konte, co-founder of the troupe with fellow Senegalese drummer Abdou Kounta, made brief (and unfortunately not always illuminating) comments from the stage.

He addressed a range of topics, from the origins of one of the instruments (a dried gourd) to the process of putting village dances onto a proscenium stage, from some dances as rites of passages to cultural traditions of maintaining an extended family.

Konte stressed moral values, urging the many kids watching to do what they loved doing and to "keep learning." He ended by asserting that "we all have to live together."

He also managed to get in some sly promos for the company, noting that during the 1988 visit to the Imagination Celebration, the company didn't get to dance on the main Segerstrom Hall stage. "Why that small stage?" he asked himself then.

This year, the troupe fulfilled his determination "to get to that big stage." Next visit, he said, he hopes the full company will be brought to Orange County.

Although 42, a ripe age for a dancer, Konte nevertheless justified the prominent virtuoso opportunities he gave himself, invariably jumping higher or with more in-the-air articulation than just about anyone else. "You got to keep pumping to the end," he said.

The three pieces on the program favored high-stepping, high-jumping movements, with arms pumping or circling or stabbing back from the chest.

Lines of men and women alternated in advancing waves toward the front of the stage, often energizing each other to greater flights of virtuosity and risk-taking.

So vigorous was the movement, in fact, that periodically bits of costumes--head-scarfs or bracelets--or even drumsticks would fly into the air.

"Dung Dung Ba," a dance of the Mandinke people of Guinea, also included biceps flexing by the men, prior to their linking arms in wrestling and other competitions.

"Sabar," a dance of the Wolof people of Senegal, added a shifting variety of arm patterns and, for the women, some wide, side-sweeping kicks of the leg.

Each dancer got a chance to shine in "Mandiani," a West African initiation celebration of boys and girls into adulthood that is danced in Senegal, Mali and Guinea.

It also included an arresting sequence by stilt-walker Kombo Omolara, who both towered above the other dancers and executed one-legged balances and other difficult maneuvers.

The two parts of the program opened with five drummers overlaying different and complex rhythms in Drum Call sequences.

In the 75-minute dance-and-talk format presented here, any assessment of the company must remain limited. But one way of judging its impact was in watching the many kids who left the hall trying to repeat what they had seen.

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