Review: Out of Africa, Into the Heart

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 Photo by Marshall Murphy

Photo by Marshall Murphy

 

A chilly evening was no match for hot drumming and frenetic dancing.  SWC’s West African Drumming and Dance Experience warmed the hearts and feet of an audience coming in from the cold.

Directed by dance instructor Akayee Atule and music professor Todd Cashetta, the African dancing and drumming ensembles brought the spirit of West Africa to America’s West Coast.  It was impressive, educational, inspiring and fun.

Bare feet by the dozens stomped and jumped across the stage in circles and lines as Cashetta, Ileana Feria and Jorge Luis Jimenez slapped a propulsive drumbeat.  Dancers transcended their lack of experience with enthusiasm.

Chanting to the beat, dancers teased the audience with “Bor Bor Bor,” a flirtatious dance of love.  Guys strutted in dashikis while ladies adorned with beaded necklaces and bracelets sashayed in matching skirts and head wraps.  Splashes of tropical greens, blood reds and sunlight yellows accentuated dancers’ outfits.  Purples, blacks and browns were as dark as the roots of a baobab tree.  Costumes were as loud and luscious as the beat.  Dancers waived handkerchiefs as if to say, “Look what I have.”

Their enthusiasm was contagious.

“Gambia,” the festive social dance, was a platform for impressive solos.  Clapping wooden instruments, dancers split the dance floor into opposing rows that left center stage open to the crowd.

All were magnificent.

Unable to resist, Cashetta joined the dance.  Sporting a dashiki and Chuck Taylors, he lifted his hands from his drum and stomped the rhythm with his feet.

The audience roared.

Atule, not to be upstaged, joined in.  With the eyes of a tiger and the instincts of a lioness, she danced with radiance and fury.

Energy cracked and sparked.

“Ke Ke ku lee” was the last and most meaningful dance of the show.  Atule said it would unite the village and celebrate that unity.

She invited friends and loved ones to join the dance on stage to fulfill her wish.  Apprehensive at first, audience became performers, moving in tribute to oneness.

“Adowa,” traditionally a funeral dance now used in recreational situations, was the only one to curb enthusiasm.  Slower than the first three, it was similar to the part of a marathon when runners lose breath right before catching their second wind.  Dancers caught their breath and finished brilliantly.

Audience members had forgotten how cold the evening was.  The West African Experience provided the warmth.

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