31st DanceAfrica Festival aims for rejuvenation & enlightenment

The Brooklyn Paper
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BAM’s longest running performance series — and one of America’s largest and most vibrant celebrations of African and African American dance, music, and culture — continues with the 31st DanceAfrica Festival. Created in 1977 to heighten awareness of African culture, the festival has evolved into a positive, high-spirited Memorial Day Weekend tradition that brings together the entire community.

Under the artistic direction of Founding Elder Chuck Davis, “DanceAfrica 2008: Bridge to Cultural Rejuvenation & Enlightenm­ent” features the American debut of The Gambian dance company Ceesay Kujabi and the Bachinab, Atlanta-based song-and-dance ensemble Giwayen Mata, and Harlem’s own LaRocque Bey School of Dance Theatre, Inc. For the 12th year, the students of Bed-Stuy’s BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble will also perform.

All dance performances will be held at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue. Performances are May 23 at 7:30 p.m.; May 24 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and May 25-26 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-$45; half-price for ages 16 and under.

The week-long celebration, centered around the dance performances at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, also includes DanceAfrica master classes; the popular outdoor DanceAfrica Bazaar with more than 250 vendors offering crafts, food, and fashion; an art display at MoCADA, 80 Hanson Place; a film series at BAM Rose Cinemas and a dance party at BAMcafé with live music. For the first time in a dozen years, DanceAfrica will feature a Memorial Day matinee.

On opening night, May 23, the Capezio Ballet Makers Foundation will present Chuck Davis with the 2008 Capezio Dance Award and the accompanying $10,000 honorarium. The award will be presented by the choreographer, performer, and 2007 recipient Carmen de Lavallade. Additionally, the winners of the Samuel H. Scripps BAM Scholarship for post-secondary education will be presented with their awards.

Keeping with tradition, the DanceAfrica performances begins with a libation ceremony to honor those who have passed on to the ancestral grounds. This ceremony takes place on the steps of BAM at 6:30 p.m. on opening night, 60 minutes prior to the first DanceAfrica performance. Each performance will include the traditional DanceAfrica greeting and welcoming ritual.

Continuing his mission to preserve and illuminate a distinct African artistic, spiritual, and cultural identity, DanceAfrica’s Artistic Director Chuck Davis brings diverse ensembles together to explore the African Diaspora and its influence on everyday, urban society.

Under Davis’ leadership, BAM produced the first DanceAfrica in 1977, creating the nation’s first festival devoted to the rich legacy of African dance.

On May 18, members of Ceesay Kujabi and the Bachinab will lead two classes in African dance. From 12-1:30 p.m. the company will conduct a family workshop for children and adults, and following the workshop there will be a master class from 2:30-4 p.m. for adults with intermediate to advanced dance experience.

The classes take place at the BAM Hillman Attic Studio, 30 Lafayette Avenue. Admission is $8 per class; $5 for children under 16 (the recommended minimum age for children is eight). Space is very limited. Tickets must be reserved by calling 718-636-4130 extension 1.

Each year, the free outdoor DanceAfrica Bazaar has been a gathering place for diverse crowds from all five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey, attracting an estimated 30,000 people over the weekend. The DanceAfrica Bazaar includes over 250 national and international vendors from the UK, Nigeria, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, as well as dozens of Brooklyn’s most celebrated small businesses.

The DanceAfrica Bazaar transforms the streets surrounding BAM into a global marketplace of African, Caribbean, and African American food, fashion, artifacts, jewelry, and crafts, May 24 from 12-10 p.m., May 25 until 8 p.m. and May 26 until 7 p.m.

BAMcafé Live, 30 Lafayette Avenue — the live music series curated by Darrell McNeill — presents The Earthman Experience featuring DJ Hard Hittin Harry, May 24 at 9:30 p.m. Haitian-born house music pioneer Richard “Earthman” Laurent along with fellow Haitian DJ Hard Hittin Harry lead an afro-beat ensemble that features congas, guitars, keyboards, percussion, turntables, violins, and soulful vocals.

BAMcafé Live events have no cover charge and no drink minimum. For information and updates, call 718-636-4100 or visit

For DanceAfrica 2008, BAM has commissioned Donovan Nelson to create an original painting that celebrates African dance, music, and culture. “Dancing the Drum” will be on view in the BAM lobby during the weekend of DanceAfrica.

In honor of “DanceAfrica 2008,” BAMart and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn showcases works from “Talking with Pictures,” a youth photography education program sponsored by NYU’s Africa House. The photographs were taken in April 2006 by students from La Yahoushua Secondary School in Accra, Ghana, and from Norman Thomas High School in New York City. The exhibition will be open to the public from May 23-June 15, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an opening reception May 23 from 6-8 p.m. The lobby exhibition is free to the public.

MoCADA is at 80 Hansen Place. For information, contact 718-230-0492 or visit

For “DanceAfrica 2008,” BAMcinématek will present highlights from African Film Festival, Inc.’s “Traveling Series,” May 23-26. Now in its 15th year, the African Film Festival continues to showcase new films from the African continent and beyond. For specific film information, call 718-636-4100 or visit Tickets are $11; $7.50 for seniors 65 and over and children under 12, and $7.50 for students 25 and under with valid ID.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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