As part of the "Celebrate the African Spirit" series at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Sankofa Dance Theatre presented its annual "Harvest Celebration" over the weekend. Under the choreographic direction of the husband and wife team of Kauna Mujamal and Kibibi Ajanku, the company celebrated the dance and musical traditions of Senegal, Guinea and Brazil in an high-wattage showcase of talent and energy.
Sankofa means "reaching back to look forward," and the Baltimore company lived up to its name in its performance of traditional African ceremonies, songs and dances. Sankofa's primary troupe of 10 men and women often shared the stage with members of Sankofa's Teen Ensemble or the Understudy (( Ensemble and, of course, the indomitable Sankofa Drummers.
Colorful costumes, vibrant drumming and boundless energy and stamina all made for an evening that was both entertaining and uplifting.
Sankofa began with a Hausa Spiritual from Nigeria sung by the Ebe Yiye Shekere Ensemble featuring Kibibi Ajanku, Robin L. Boyd, Cassandra DeLeon and Cheryl Hinton. After the invocation was sung, a Senegalese "Drum Call" erupted, with the drummers straddling instruments of various sizes as they made their way through the audience.
After this pulsating benediction, Sankofa's dancers performed the Senegalese "Malakadon/Mandiani," which was filled with lively and playful movements. As the performers bounded and leaped, their legs pumped out one rhythm while their shoulders and arms countered with another, and the women accented the beats with their hips and heads.
The highlight of the program was a wrestling dance from Guinea, "DunDunBa," in which the women playfully mocked the men, who strutted on stage with great machismo. The heart of this work was a wrestling match between two young men, and the troupe members' good humor was evident as they urged on their favorite competitors with their dancing.
Of course it wouldn't be a harvest festival without the dancing of the "AkonKon," an enthusiastic work of thanksgiving for crops well grown and harvested.
While most of the movements were performed in unison, there were solos, duets and trios. It was wonderful to see how personalities shone through the dancing, and while the performers varied in accomplishment, they all radiated energy.
When the final drums sounded, the audience stood and cheered. It is obvious that Mr. Mujamal and Ms. Ajanku fill their dances with love and attention, and their talented dancers and drummers bring the old ways to life.