This year, the 44th annual celebration of DanceAfrica, the largest African and African diaspora dance, music and culture festival, returns on Memorial Day weekend with new content reimagined for the digital space.
This year’s festival draws its inspiration from Haitian folk traditions, the Iwa, Haitian voodoo deities where dance is a way to stay connected with ancestors and the desire to give praise and thanks, explains the artistic director of DanceAfrica Baba Abdel R. Salaam. Saturday, May 29 at 7 p.m. ET, the online celebration pays homage to the ancestral energy of Haiti with the presentation of dance companies from Haiti and the United States under the thematic umbrella “Vwa zanset yo: y’ap pale , n’ap danse! “in Haitian Creole which means” Ancestral voices: they speak, we dance! ”
While the goal is primarily festive, there is also a need, says Salaam, to correct any vestiges of the negative connotations associated with portraying Africa’s spiritual and ritual traditions. “Often in our culture, when we hear the term Vodou and those negative connotations come back,” says Salaam, “this is one of the reasons I have done“ Life and Legend of Marie Laveau ”over the years. 1980. Although I am not a practitioner, this was my artistic response to Hollywood’s portrayal of these traditions as dark.
“Also, in my endless search to assert the importance of these African diasporic traditions, I wanted to illustrate a positive way of looking at voodoo, looking at the dances, music and traditions that honor the forces of nature and our ancestors. For many people it is a way of life that is exalted in song, dance and ritual and it is something that is happening all over the diaspora and there are different countries on the continent as well as here. who practice this particular tradition, ”adds Salaam. In many ways, Salaam echoes the sentiments of dance pioneer Katherine Dunham who revered Haitian culture and shared it with an international dance audience. For Dunham, dancing was more than a technique, it was a social act. The same seems to be true of Salaam.
With his noble mission in mind, Salaam has commissioned pieces from four dance companies – HaitiDansCo, in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and three American companies, Àṣẹ Dance Theater Collective and The Fritzation Experience in Brooklyn, and Rara Tou Limen in Oakland. Each company will represent a particular dance / deity and its associated element and, with a feature that highlights the positive aspects of virtual presentations, rather than taking place on a proscenium arc stage, the performances will take place in a different setting. based on those. aspects of the ritual. Salaam says that Haiti’s artistic director, Dieufel Lamisere, was recommended to him by one of his “dance girls,” a principal dancer who belonged to Salaam’s own dance company, the Forces de la Nature, critically acclaimed for many years. Understandably, given the COVID restrictions, he contacted Lamisere virtually and received compelling videos of the company’s performance. “It sounded like a wonderful way to show how the tradition was celebrated and still is celebrated in Haiti,” says Salaam.
Ase Dance Theater Collective and The Fritzation Experience, based in Brooklyn, and Rara Tou Limen, based in Oakland, Calif., Were closer to home, but the entire DanceAfrica program will be presented virtually. The virtual program includes four dance premieres inspired by the characteristics of the lwa, spirits of Haitian voodoo. Each company pays homage to a different lwa through traditional dance: Yanvalou Maskawon, Banda, Nago, Petro and Parigol. The dances manifest lwa, bringing messages of faith, hope and healing, staying connected with ancestors and giving praise and gratitude. The performances embrace the strength, healing and resilience of Haitian culture through deep, rich, and vividly colored scenes and landscapes depicting traditional dance moves, costumes, masks, headwear and elements of the voodoo tradition.
The BAM / Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble also performs, an annual favorite and a powerful symbol of youth participation in the preservation of African heritage. Many long-standing traditions are reinvented for the 44th celebration, including a virtual liberation ceremony and alumni procession that crosses the country, featuring alumni from seven DanceAfrica cities.
Established in 1977 under the artistic direction of former founder Chuck Davis, DanceAfrica has grown into a much anticipated and lively Memorial Day weekend tradition that brings the entire community together. This year, the tradition is reinvented as a virtual celebration allowing audiences around the world to be part of the DanceAfrica community and experience new content designed and produced for the screen.
Don’t think that just because DanceAfrica is virtual, it would omit one of the major attractions – the DanceAfrica Bazaar. It has gone virtual and will feature over 20 craft, food and fashion vendors (currently live on BAM.org); Master classes of the Haitian movement for families and adults; and a conversation with the choreographers on May 19 (see below). The Festival will also include the public visual art exhibition DanceAfrica “A Return: Liberation as Power” (May 24-31); the FilmAfrica series in partnership with African Film Festival, Inc (May 28-June 3); and a late night dance party with music from DJ Hard Hittin Harry (May 29).
Tickets for the DanceAfrica 2021 dance show go on sale Thursday, May 13 at 12 p.m. / noon ET, at BAM.org/danceafrica.