Lacina Coulibaly: Sen Koro La (“Right of Initiates”)
Nora Chipaumire: Dark Swan
Passion Fruit Dance Company: Dance Within Your Dance
Les Ballet Afrik: Sila Djiguba (The Path to Hope)
New York, Harlem Stage
4 May 2018
For 20 years Harlem Stage has presented emerging and established choreographers in its E-Moves series, and 2018’s installment featured a diverse cross-section of styles and influences. In addition to the three works performed each night of the run, four female choreographers were chosen to present ‘pop-up’ performances, a different one each night.
Friday night’s ‘pop-up’ was Passion Fruit Dance Company’s Dance Within Your Dance, which received well-deserved hoots and hollers from the audience. Originally hailing from Switzerland, choreographer Tatiana Desardouin is a founding member of Geneva’s first hip-hop dance company, Continuum, and is now based in the U.S., teaching and running her own troupe PFDC. Friday she was joined onstage by fellow company members: the lithe Mai Lê Ho and polished Lauriane Ogay.
Dance Within Your Dance is a slick, energetic foray into the movement conversations that happen between dancers while dancing. The work was created with the concept of a groove in mind – the concept itself, what it looks like on your body, what it is musically, rhythmically, how it influences instinctive movement, and how different bodies express it. The definition of a groove is articulated with aplomb by these three dancers, who swivel hips, slink, slide and drop their bodies into these rhythms with enviable flow. Using a mixture of hip-hop, house and urban dance styles, the three women glance at each other knowingly, feed off one another, while maintaining their own distinct style.
The elegance of Dance Within Your Dance cannot be overstated, there is something about Desardouin’s aesthetic that defies the popular image of choppy, hard and robotic urban dance movement. Her choreography is not without angles, popping and high energy – in one section the three of them whip up a froth, later traversing vast swathes of the stage in a short time – but it all glides effortlessly. The women wear trousers and blouses buttoned up to the collar, their hands at times in their pockets, drawing their shoulders down (without slouching) and the centre of gravity into the hips, something about this looks more refined than the fanciest tuxedo on the planet.
Ousmane Wiles (also known as Omari Mizrahi) conjured up a group of dancers and the troupe, Les Ballet Afrik, made their debut at Harlem Stage. Featuring seven dancers and set to an epic mix by DJ Dany Ramas, Sila Djiguba (The Path to Hope) was a blistering frenzy of frenetic energy, and an amalgam of traditional and contemporary dance styles. The Senegal-born dancer has trained in a variety of styles which shows in his choreography. His parents founded the Maimouna Keita School of African Dance, and he himself teaches West African dance in addition to voguing (he has been crowned Legend in NYC’s Vogue Ballroom scene).
Like Passion Fruit Dance Company, his latest piece was inspired by the “non-verbal exchange” that occurs between dancers, which for him can reference West African dance circles or voguing games. Opening with vast, expansive movement from Wiles, seven dancers join him and sync into knife-like movements, digging into the floor, popping and locking with militaristic athleticism. The piece exhibits flashes of choreography which wouldn’t be out of place onstage at a large arena concert for a major pop star. Also present are many elements of voguing, particularly face framing hand gestures. In certain sections, dancers strike statuesque poses and flow out of them, as if they are temple statues from Southeast Asia come to life.
The opening works were less immediate and more pensive. Lacina Coulibaly, from Burkina Faso, performed Sen Koro La or “The Rite of Initiates.” Bare chested with a flowing white skirt, Coulibaly focused a lot on his feet, curling them towards himself in a scooping motion, his body hunched over. Originally choreographed for two people, Coulibaly performed it solo and it’s difficult to know if the duet version would have been more engaging. Coulibaly’s movement is slow and steady, punctuated occasionally with shimmying convulsions; consistent dancing episodes felt few and far between compared to slower, meditative motion.
Spasms also featured heavily in Nora Chipaumire’s piece Dark Swan Revival which, for New York’s performance, the Zimbabwean artist set for the first time on another dancer – Shamar Watt (the original was simply Dark Swan). Without having seen Chipaumire’s original version which was intended as a tribute to African woman, it’s tough to figure out if Watt’s near orgasmic spasms and audible breathing were exaggerated, on point, or unique to his particular performance (there was also crotch stroking). Mostly standing within a small white square onstage, Watt moved within this small footprint for a long time with no music, while someone in a balaclava sat on a skateboard and shone a light on him. The minimal movement was done in silence before Saint-Saens’ music Fokine used for Dying Swan came on-and the minimalistic, spasmodic movements continued with the occasional reference to swan arms. The dance aspects of both works felt nominal compared to their more performance art traits.