Sunday, September 5, 2010

flash of the spirit

Last night KanKouran West African Dance Company turned Lisner Auditorium into a house of celebration. The performance was aptly titled Circle of Praise: Blessings! and paid tribute to dance scholar Dr. Sherrill Berryman-Johnson who passed away earlier this year.

The first act ended with dollar bills strewn across the stage and the second act featured performers as young as 3 or 4 years old dancing rhythms and beating drums with a multigenerational cast. The walls seemed to shake and the floor bounce. The live music, vibrant costumes, contagious enthusiasm of the performers, the virility of their dancing, and the cheers of the audience created a fiery joy. People from the audience approached the stage to toss money to the performers, but these bills seemed trifling compared to the power of their bodies and drums. It was a manifestation of spirit.

A dedication to Dr. Berryman-Johnson at the beginning of the evening included her ideas about technique and the importance of clarity and conviction. Listening to her words about the role of an institution – a school or company – to give dancers the structure they need to hone their craft, I realized the link between her dedication to teaching and the beauty of choreographers like Ronald K. Brown. They share a commitment to both discipline and grace.

At the end of the evening, KanKouran's company director, Assane Konte, remembered coming to America in 1979 and being asked by Dr. Berryman-Johnson to teach a class at Howard. He laughed as he recalled his answer: ‘I don’t speak English and we don’t take dance classes in Africa.”

Today, 31 years later, he said he missed a dear friend and legend: his company honored her vigilance and her investment in dance with a gorgeous celebration.

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