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Thursday, May 5, 2016

DanceAfrica: Opening Doors

DanceAfrica master class. Photo: Whitney Browne
By Susan Yung

Since its founding in 1977, DanceAfrica has continually been about the rich and variegated tradition of African dance, and also the rites and heritage passed down through generations. In that respect, this year’s festival (running May 25—30) will be a continuation, focusing on dance and culture from the country of Senegal. It will, however, for the first time be under the sole artistic direction of Abdel R. Salaam, who succeeds festival founder Baba Chuck Davis (who will make a guest appearance).

Salaam founded his New York-based company, Forces of Nature, in 1981. The company has since been a vital presence on the dance scene, sharing Salaam’s unique, impressively dramatic vision. The repertory often concerns our relationship with the planet, the environment, or our fellow creatures. Salaam—whose troupe has been a frequent presence in DanceAfrica— brings his years of creating narrative through-lines and thought-provoking allegory to DanceAfrica. This year’s thematic subtitle is Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures.

Salaam reflected on the nature of culture and evolution. “The cultures of Africa and its diaspora are dynamic, ever evolving, and ever searching. A culture by its definition is an organic, living being that, if healthy, is forever reproducing new and vibrant offspring of itself.”

Referring to what might be expected from DanceAfrica going forward, he said: “Keeping the foundation and histories of its origins that are its traditions, and yet, at the same, producing new variations on its ancient past and the contemporary realities of its present in an attempt to design and create a better tomorrow. DanceAfrica was, is, and will be a manifestation of this reality!”

As in years past, DanceAfrica will feature companies from Africa or the African diaspora—this year, from Senegal. These include Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine "WAATO SiiTA," Compagnie Tenane, and Germaine Acogny, and from New York, Dyane Harvey, Reverend Nafisa Sharriff, and the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble. Of course, live drumming and music—an integral, viscerally exciting element of African dance—will accompany the proceedings.

This year’s DanceAfrica festival kicks off with a huge bang: two concerts by Senegalese superstar Youssou NDOUR in the Howard Gilman Opera House on May 20 & 21.

On May 21, the Tribute to the Ancestors takes place at Weeksville Heritage Center, which is one of the country’s first free African-American settlements, as well as DanceAfrica Community Day at Restoration, where the young dancers of the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble celebrate the visiting artists.

Abdel R. Salaam. Photo: Jack Vartoogian
An important component of DanceAfrica since its founding has been the participation and encouragement of youngsters and the development of potential talent. A prime example is the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble, a program organized in partnership with the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation, which performs each year, including with international guest companies.

There are now two award programs affiliated with DanceAfrica. The Samuel H. Scripps BAM Scholarship Fund provides assistance to select students to achieve the goal of a higher education in all artistic disciplines. The recipients have all participated in BAM’s arts education programs at some point. New in 2015 was the Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship, which provides designated up-and-coming dancemakers support for travel to Africa and research.

The festival, to be held around Memorial Day weekend, as is tradition, will also feature the out-of-doors DanceAfrica Bazaar, full of food and fun wares for the whole family; FilmAfrica, wich screen as part of the proceedings at BAM Rose Cinemas; a Late Night Dance Party in the BAMcafé featuring DJ Tony Humphries; and workshops for both families and adults, held at the neighboring Mark Morris Dance Center.

DanceAfrica Festival 2016
Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures
Artistic Director Abdel R. Salaam and Artistic Director Emeritus Chuck Davis
(* denotes Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave.)

Youssou NDOUR
May 20 & 21, 8pm
Howard Gilman Opera House*

Tribute to the Ancestors
May 21 at 10am
Weeksville Heritage Center, 1698 Bergen St., Brooklyn

DanceAfrica Community Day at Restoration
May 21 at 1pm
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton St., Brooklyn

DanceAfrica performances
May 27 & 28 at 7:30pm; May 28 at 2pm;
May 29 & 30 at 3pm
Howard Gilman Opera House*

May 25—30
BAM Rose Cinemas*

Late Night Dance Party with Tony Humphries
May 28 at 10pm

DanceAfrica Bazaar
May 28, 12—10pm; May 29, 12—8pm; 
May 30, 12—8pm
Ashland Place (Hanson/Fulton) and Lafayette Ave (Rockwell/Ft. Greene)

Family workshop (all ages)
May 30 from 10—11:15am
Adult workshop (intermediate to advanced)
May 30, 12—1:30pm
Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Ave.

For more information, visit

Susan Yung is Senior Editorial Manager at BAM.
Reprinted from April 2016 BAMbill.

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