Dallas- Since 2014, the Elevator Project has carefully selected a handful of Dallas-based artists to represent the myriad of cultures, creative experiments, and avant-garde work happening within the community. For the 2017-2018 season, AT&T Performing Arts Center welcomed Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble to participate in this event. Spoiler alert: Their show, Guinea Fare: Her Story, Her Ipseity, did not disappoint.
Held in Hamon Hall, the performance felt intimate from the start. The smaller space allowed an up-close view of the booming drums and encouraged audience participation. In darkness, six drummers entered the stage with steady beats that increased in intensity as they continued to play. Their costumes literally glowed in the dark—creating geometric patches of brightness on their clothes and fierce patterns on their headdresses. Anticipation continued to build as three dancers jumped onstage carrying more glowing instruments. Their forceful steps and sharp rhythms permeated through the black light and created mesmerizing optical illusions.
Fostering a sense of community from the beginning, the drummers walked across the front and invited audience members to try their own rhythms on the instruments. This jovial, playful demeanor followed the performers as they light-heartedly battled back and forth with charismatic beats.
Shifting into the central thread of the program, Aunt Sarah’s Plight served as the first of four solos set to Nina Simone’s “Four Women.” A woman in a white apron held her head in pain and screamed while she slowly stretched her limbs outward. Followed by a poem by Audra Lorde, the solo contrasted the high-energy flurry of movement from the first section and revealed a more intimate picture of struggle, resilience, and determination.
As the lights brightened, a group of children streamed to the center, clothed in peppy blues, greens, and yellows. Their ear-to-ear smiles and animated personalities illuminated the previously heavy tone and caused a surge of applause from the audience. The children cheered for their adult counterparts while they fanned their wrists and stomped fiercely.
Saffronia’s Sensuality returned to Simone’s song with another solo — vastly different from the first. As a woman in a shining, gray dress spun and circled to the ground, a sense of youth, innocence, and hope fell upon the stage. She carried a glittering mirror with her, constantly checking her reflection.
Once the musicians resumed their steady beats, five women emerged in a bold V-formation. The dancers exploded with energy — swirling their hips, accenting the isolations of their centers, and sharply bobbing their heads. Adding three male dancers to the stage only heightened the rooted, weight of their lower bodies and smooth, curved lines of their spines. Swaying in deep plies and flinging their arms sideways, the dancers appeared to rock the entire stage.
Post-intermission, the celebration continued as dancers infiltrated the audience by dancing through the aisles and reaching out to viewers. Now clothed in non-uniform outfits, their individual personalities bubbled to the surface amidst windmill arms and figure-eight hips. This led into the third section of Simone’s song featured a new solo. Sweet Thing’s Suite centered on the soloist’s circling hips and slow, sultry walks.
The last part of Simone’s music portrayed a woman stretching her arms, punching her fists, and reaching upward. She strutted towards the audience with intense focus before sitting in the corner as two other women coated her in glitter and fixed her hair. Breaking from her momentary pause, the soloist began to sing and called the rest of the dancers to the stage. In this final number, the movers carried drumsticks that acted as extensions of their of hands. Their grounded steps and quick turns were even more complicated by the addition of rhythms coming from their sticks. Climbing towards a climactic beat, the dancers merged together with the drummers as they brought the entire cast back for a final goodbye.
Highly entertaining, incredibly powerful, remarkably intense, Bandan Koro’s performance left audience members dancing out of the theater. Guinea Fare: Her Story, Her Ipseity was an innovative presentation of African culture, gender topics, and community.