More than celebrating African roots, Chuck Davis' seven-city DanceAfrica America festival reaffirms the values in African culture--and shows how they've endured far from the motherland.
"This is not a concert, this is not a show, this is a sharing ," he said at the start of the program on Saturday at Cal State L.A., insisting that his audience be members of a responsive community rather than passive observers. This sense of community--and of cultural continuity--informed the dancing on view, and it was fascinating to watch rhythms and steps from the 14th-Century Old Mali kingdom recur in traditional Afro-Brazilian dances and contemporary hip-hop.
Perhaps the most moving moment came when Davis and members of his North Carolina-based African American Dance Ensemble came out in their traditional West African costumes to embrace the young Pennsylvanian men of Rennie Harris' Pure Movement ensemble. This demonstration of kinship gave the blazing flamboyance of Harris' "Students of the Asphalt Jungle" a depth of soul that it would not have achieved by itself, though the high-velocity gymnastics and drill-team street-dancing that Harris unleashed would have impressed under any circumstances.
Accompanied by a fine complement of drummers, Davis' women's quintet "Namaniyo," and the men's trio "Dundunbah" (choreographed by Ashi Smythe and J. K. Green III) underscored the elegance and sensuality of traditional African dance--with a reminder of the agony of slavery.
The only serious disappointment: Amen Santo's Ballet Folclorico do Brazil, a company from Santa Monica with plenty of fine performers but not the ability to organize their efforts purposefully.