Heal and toe: Dance Africa Festival celebrates ‘Healing Light of Rhythm’

Returning champions: The BAM-Restoration Dance Youth Ensemble has performed at the DanceAfrica Festival every years since its founding 20 years ago.
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It’s 40 years old and dancing strong.

The country’s largest festival of African dance will return to the Brooklyn Academy of Music this month to celebrate its 40th anniversary. This year’s Dance Africa Festival, starting on May 26, has the theme “The Healing Light of Rhythm: Tradition and Beyond,” will honor both the past and the present, looking at the origins of traditional dances and also showcasing what is happening in the dance world now, said the festival’s artistic director.

“We are celebrating the power of the traditional African dance as well as the contemporary voice of the diaspora,” said Abdel R. Salaam. “People will not only be entertained but be empowered by the experiences, and that is our the focus of program.”

This year’s show will feature a new twist — a collaborative performance between three dance companies, all of whom have performed at the Festival in previous years. The three groups — Bedford-Stuvesant’s Asase Yaa, Forces of Nature, and Illstyle and Peace Productions — will combine forces to present “The Healing Sevens,” a multi-genre piece that combines of hip-hop, African, contemporary, and modern dances. This combination dance, which will take up the first half of the evening, will also feature a rhythm that strays from the usual musical measurements, said the director of Asase Yaa.

“It involves a lot of different things — we took traditional African rhythms and put a twist on them, and we’re doing all in of our rhythms in sevens,” said Kofi Osei Williams,

The “healing” portion of this year’s theme will be highlighted in a performance from Guinean dance group Wula Dance and Drum Ensemble, with a piece in response to lives lost or destroyed by violence.

“The second half of the show focuses on healing in the community and makes some choreo-commentary on gun violence within not just inner cities but at large,” said Salaam. “I wanted to do something to focus on the healing of our young men because I think our young men need a lot of support and focus, so this year we going to attempt to send this message that we need to work together to make this world better for all of us.”

The festival, the longest-running one at the Brooklyn Academy of music, has evolved of the years, adding theater and storytelling elements to pure dance performances, said Salaam.

“I added an element of theater and shifted it somewhat,” he said. “Being a choreographer and artistic director who is impassioned by story and dance, theater adds more of that and provides a more creative festival.”

The festival’s founding director Chuck Davis, better known as Baba Chuck, passed away recently, on May 14. His dedication to the festival is and work connecting it to the Brooklyn community allowed it to last for so long, said Williams — and his work will continue.

“Baba Chuck Davis is very big influence for us and he taught us a lot about African culture and dance. The show is here because of the words he lived by,” he said. “DanceAfrica is one of the biggest African shows in the world and it always raises the bar to show people how to celebrate African culture.”

DanceAfrica Festival at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House [30 Lafayette Ave between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, May 26 at 7:30 pm, May 27 at 2 pm and 7 pm, and May 28–29 at 3 pm. $25.

Updated 5:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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