Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, February 19

26 Feb

One is hard  put to laud this Festival, now in its eighth year, without mentioning its organizers in the same breath: Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra  Kimborough  Barnes  of K Star Productions. Those two dynamos have guided this annual event from strength to strength.

My colleagues raved about the first weekend at Oakland’s Laney College; I managed a Sunday evening at San Francisco’s Dance Mission. The dances were different, but the energy and belief was out there shining.  Three numbers stood out as examples of the expressive range African-American dancers utilize outside of classical ballet. The range is both handsome and impressive.

For starters there was Dormisha Bumbry-Edwards flashing her taps on a narrow strip of platform installed for her magician’s mastery of the  form.  I’ve seen her three times before, once in the feisty  Chitresh Das-Jason Samuels Smith collaboration, twice in the annual August Bay Area Rhythm Exchange, sponsored by Stepology, and now in this year’s festival where the spectators were practically on top of her.

Dormisha made excellent use of the closeness, requiring the audience to stamp some of her less complicated rhythms after her. The response was eager and whole-hearted, a great way to commence an evening. She galvanizes my attention every time.

In “Evolution of a Secured Feminine” Camille A. Brown relied on the voices and lyrics sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, a solo which enjoyed a company premiere at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, December 2010.  Apart from the program notes describing Brown’s very energetic dancing, the final contribution to beautifully enunciated song gave the portrait of a woman confronted with a husband in love with another woman a very wry, sophisticated ambiance.

Naomi Diouf completed the evening with Mah Way, an excerpt from a larger work, displaying hints of the multi-cultural influences active in West Africa. Danced to the overwhelming drumming of Dr. Kakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Mohammad Kouyate, Nimely Napia, Mory Fofana and George Ayikpa, the dancers’ rhythmic support was thrilling as it gets.  The eleven dancers’ initial appearance showed them with veils, reflecting the Muslim influence in Africa.
Soon discarded, covered heads remained with short, colorful skirts allowing the women a full range of movement for jumps and turns in the unrelenting pace.

Again, without the steady support and organization skills of Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimborough Barnes, we would not have a venue to see the evolution of African-American choreography in such concentrated fashion.  Good show, the two of you!


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