Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
“Les écailles de la mémoire (The scales of memory)”
Friday, April 4, 2008
Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi have collaborated on “Les écailles de la mémoire (The scales of memory),” a full-evening length work centering on identity, family, and history. I’ve seen both companies before, albeit separately, and this unique union proved that collaboration is a good thing.
The dancers begin by reciting their names and their ancestors: parents, grand parents, great grandparents, etc. There’s a connection, even if just by blood, that we can’t deny. “Memory” tackles many of the same issues as Company Ea Sola’s “Draught and Rain, Vol 2” did, but with much more choreographic development and success.
The men of Compagnie Jant-Bi easily compare to Urban Bush Women’s dancers. These strong men display presence and fortitude. Had I not known these were two separate groups, I would have assumed the dancers formed one complete troupe. The men strutted across the stage early on wearing red shirts that they later pulled off and slapped the floor with. The images of the bright red striking against their backs and then the ground as they hovered in a low squat lingered in my mind, and while I consciously knew they were up on a stage, dancing, performing, I still cringed and tried to look away. These men were enjoyable to watch, but their shapes and motions felt haunting all the same.
Nora Chipaumire, a 2007 Bessie Performer Award winner, led the Urban Bush Women with fire in her belly. A tall and striking woman, Chipaumire may not have looked the sharpest at times, but her passion and full-bodied submission to the movement overwhelmed everything else around her. The women kicked high and thrusted their hips deep, sending excitement through the audience. They giggled and flirted with the men, looking happy or competitive at times and disturbingly trapped at times. No one’s past is a perfect image, and “Memory” explored this well.
The eclectic score sampled beat box by Babacar Ba, wolof flows by Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (Kaolack), the Drummers of L’Ecole des Sables, Kinshasa Theme music by Frederic Bobin, and other vocals and sound score by Christine King. Each choice pushed the evening forward, while highlighting the ins and outs of Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s developed yet fun-to-watch choreography. Now if only the two companies could come back. That’d be an even better thing.
Photos by Thomas Dorn and Antoine Tempé