Tom Strini

African/Modern dance at Alverno

By - Oct 16th, 2010 11:42 pm

Waxtaan is a dance in the form of a political meeting.

Saturday evening (Oct. 16) at Alverno College, nine guys (and one woman in male attire) lounged with the easy grace of GQ models in a business-themed shoot. The six dancers and four drummers of Compagnie Jant-Bi, from Senegal, projected remarkable poise and presence during these fascinating casual passages, one of three levels of discourse in of discourse in Germaine Acogny’s 75-minute piece.

The dancers stepped to the next level by dancing in silence in every combination from solo to sextet.  Waxtaan means “discussion,” and these unaccompanied passages especially gave the impression of talking through the body. The dancing advanced in rhetorical, asymmetrical phrases. It could be as minimal as the repeated straightening of a tie or as elaborate as six bodies moving in unison through sets of amazing contortions. Sometimes, the dancers created their own music with claps, footfalls and body percussion. The whole of Waxtaan abounds with wit and humor, but these bits, especially, provoked laughter; the body can tell jokes, and punchlines have a certain thrust and rhythm.

The drummers charged the third level. They sometimes played in free, rhetorical style, but more often worked in the driving, cycled meters and layered rhythms of West African traditional music. The beat and taut rhythm brought the loosey-goosey Waxtaan intermittently into sharp focus, as the sly, casual dancing of the silent passages gave way to driven, explosive virtuosity, both solo and ensemble.

Waxtaan does not build resolutely to a climactic third level. Acogny is too sophisticated for that. She moves among them unpredictably but in a way that ultimately gives Waxtaan an ebb and flow, the sense of bigger rhythms that span the whole 75 minutes.

Her dance language draws on traditional West African styles, which are clearly second nature to these dancers. The speed and clarity of their footwork and the articulation of their hips are dazzling. But they have also learned to give themselves completely to Acogny’s eccentric twists on African style, to floor work drawn from Western modern dance, and even to some clever partnering that is not native to West Africa. African heritage is her starting point, her technical base. Acogny doesn’t preserve a dance culture, she advances it.

This one-night event took place before a large, enthusiastic crowd in the Pitman Theater at Alverno College, as part of the Alverno Presents series.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Dance

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