UAD May 29,2006

The New York Times

 May 29, 2006
Dance Review

DanceAfrica 2006: Festival of Spirit, Ancestral and Contemporary


For Chuck Davis, big really does mean better, and that's not just because of his own towering frame. As the artistic director of DanceAfrica 2006, which celebrated its 29th anniversary over the weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Mr. Davis does more than bring together a few dance companies.

The annual festival is an event, with music, master classes, films, an African garden and the wildly popular DanceAfrica Bazaar. After all, shopping, like dance, is a universal language.

In "Legacy: African Dance in Our World," seen Friday, Mr. Davis assembled Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn, Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble and Peru Negro, an exceptional South American company from Lima. In between, elders were honored, and Mr. Davis spoke, long-windedly, about legacy and honoring those who have passed to "the ancestral grounds."

In the first dance, "Forces," which made reference to Hurricane Katrina, Creative Outlet's artistic director, Jamel Gaines, merged poetry, nature imagery and a blend of modern dance and African movement to create a fairly vacuous whole. Choreographically fussy and full of didactic text ("We know that God has a plan, but the wrath of nature is hard to understand"), Mr. Gaines showed that he is clearly influenced by the choreographer Ronald K. Brown but imparts none of his depth.

More memorable was Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, a robust all-ages group from Camden, N.J. "African Dimedi" included ancestral dances, pulsating drums and an incredible stilt walker named Pasha, who balanced on one leg while the other shot straight up, grazing his ear. The BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble, local dancers from the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation's Youth Arts Academy, performed "Legacy," by Mr. Davis and Karen Thornton Daniels and "Econne-Conne" by Jewel Love. While charming at times, the performers lacked the tightness- and stamina-of the former group.

Justly, the featured attraction was the exquisite Peru Negro, which presented three works, including "Toro Mata," a subtle parody of European waltzes. In "Estuve Covando," a celebration dance for five couples performed alongside the lead vocalist, Monica Duenas Avalos, there was an enduring, understated sensuality.

The group certainly lent DanceAfrica artistic diversity. The only problem is that Peru Negro wasn't put on this planet to share a program with anybody.