Dance Entertainment

Evaluate: Diasporic Historical past, in Which Movement Is the Message

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The individuals are on the run, crouching, defending their heads with their palms. The individuals are preventing again, choosing up and throwing objects. Some are struck down, however figures in white stroll calmly amongst them: ancestors, spirits. The individuals are not alone.

This stage picture is the message-delivering fruits of “Behind the South: Dances for Manuel,” which the Afro-Colombian firm Sankofa Danzafro is performing on the Joyce Theater, in an engagement that opened on Tuesday. The Manuel of the title is the Twentieth-century Colombian anthropologist and author Manuel Zapata Olivella, whose seminal novel “Changó, el Gran Putas” recounts 500 years of African diasporic historical past within the Americas.

The novel is an epic, however “Behind the South,” whereas impressed by the e-book, is basically a mixture of ritual theater and semi-abstract dance sections. In a single scene, Maryeris Mosquera Batista seems, visibly pregnant beneath her pure white gown. A material umbilical wire connects her to William Camilo Perlaza Micolta. With undulations and drum-accented contractions, she offers delivery and removes the wire. He walks like a king, stately, along with his pectoral muscle tissues spasming impressively, till he breaks into ferociously twisting dance.

In one other scene, Yndira Perea Cuesta spins, and the 2 layers of her white skirts billow and separate in rippling waves. That is applicable for Yemaya, the Yoruban orisha, or spirit, of water and motherhood. Perea additionally wears lengthy, blue-tinged braids, and when she spins, these unfold and separate, too. The visible impact is hanging.

Figuring out Perea as Yemaya isn’t laborious. However I needed to ask firm representatives to study that Mosquera is taking part in the mom of the historic determine Benkos Biohó, a Mandinka who was enslaved in 1596, delivered to what would change into Colombia, and who efficiently escaped to discovered a village of runaway slaves. Right here and elsewhere, not all of the content material comes throughout, which makes some elements slightly mystifying.

As for which means by means of dance, a piece referred to as “Diaspora” has the strongest choreographic thought. A determine (the splendidly composed María Elena Murillo Palacios) emerges in a masks of latticed ribbons, with extra ribbons hanging down her back and front. Hips gently rocking facet to facet, she shifts from foot to foot with small steps on each beat, strolling in place like somebody doing the merengue. Different dancers be a part of her, equally masked (considerably like mummies), and take up the identical easy step, dealing with entrance with their arms held at their sides. Mounted in that place, they transfer — in traces and revolving formations, whereas Murillo (who represents Elegua, the orisha of roads) holds the middle. Diaspora.

In any other case, the message is within the movement, in its element elements and roots. A lot of the motion vocabulary resembles that of West African and Afro-Cuban dance, powerfully synchronized with reside drumming. Because the dancers step and hop rhythmically, their shoulders rock regular or roll. In a single bit, they appear to be operating in place, the size of every ahead step exaggerated right into a leap, when, mid-step, they catch the momentum and reverse it, swinging and kicking the leg backward. That catch is thrilling.

However the hourlong “Behind the South” doesn’t maintain this vitality. The dancers, curiously, can appear like professionals one second, rhythmically exact and authoritative, and like proficient amateurs the subsequent, blurred and a bit awkward. It’s one thing of a shock when, primarily in solo breaks, they flash into greatness. In any other case, in earlier sections they appear to avoid wasting gasoline for the ultimate one, referred to as “Epic,” which is sort of epic in the way it goes on and on. Then the spirits and ancestors be a part of the operating and preventing individuals, who can not see them. On this dance, the viewers can.

Sankofa Danzafro

Although Sunday on the Joyce Theater, Manhattan; joyce.org.