BWW Review: The Spirit of West Africa and Its Diaspora Shines Through KULU MELE
I ventured from the city to see Kulu Mele at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia. Kulu Mele is a cultural institution celebrating dance and culture from West Africa and its diaspora in the Americas. The theme of this show was Senegal.The show consisted of student and professional dancers and featured choreography by multiple artists including the company's artistic director, Dorothy Wilkie, and Brooklyn-based guest choreographer, Marie Basse. The young drummers provided an excellent, entertaining and coordinated performance even out-shining some adult drumming groups I've seen. The youngest dancers, however, were much less synchronized with a range that spanned skillful confidence to adorable confusion. Among the older dancers, the teen and adult groups tended to be a bit more intermixed and, while the range was less obvious, there was still a bit of a range concerning the dancers' skill levels. However, the company's commitment to providing performance opportunities to pre-professionals is admirable and did not subtract from my enjoyment of the show. All the numbers were vivacious and beautiful and featured exquisite costumes (which I heard were designed by the artistic director herself.) However, the world premieres of Marie Basse's Sabar and Balanta stood out. Sabar was full of feminine fire, energy and articulation- a fitting homage to the complexity of West African dance.
Filled with traditional, ancient moves similar to those found in the dances of Polynesia or throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Balanta gave off a sense of universality and closed the show with color and vivacity.The energy of the dancers was so contagious that the audience was dancing an drumming too by the end of the curtain call, exemplifying the spirit of these African traditions.
Photo by Kimberly Paynter