Review: DanceAfrica Excels With Tradition. Why Go Beyond?

Rival gangs were represented by hip-hop dancers; the soundtrack even included Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Eventually two performers, Robert Durkston and Antwine Freeman, were shot; as they stretched on the floor, percussionists pounded drums, causing the supine dancers to twitch and jerk.

At times, seven Spirit Walkers, like ancestral beings, towered above the others on high platforms covered by dark fabric on rollers: With crowns of feathers, they glided across the stage like ghosts. And making intermittent appearances was Fritzlyn Hector, who crept along with a cane, as the trickster.

In the end, “The Healing Sevens” was propulsive, flashy and more than a little contrived. More disheartening was the way Mr. Durkston and Mr. Freeman — once brought back to life (or perhaps entering another dimension) — continued, along with Ms. Hector, as a through-line in the second act. Suddenly the two men were transplanted to Africa, where they stared and pointed at members of the Wula ensemble in naïve wonderment.

Photo

The Wula Drum and Dance Ensemble, which has roots in Guinea, in the DanceAfrica program.

Credit
Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

It was wholly distracting, especially when they sat on the floor as the incredible Mamma Dioubate played the kora, a 21-string harp, and sang. As electrifying as the dancing and the drumming were, this awkward attempt to plant one story inside another went amiss.

At one point, after two Wula performers threatened each other with machetes, the hip-hop dancers persuaded them to back down. It came off like a public service announcement.

That’s not to say that there weren’t transformative moments. Whenever the BAM/Restoration Dance Youth Ensemble was onstage — these splendid dancers, full of…

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