Modern Griots Review: MUV’s “Sankofa”

If you can keep dancing especially when no one thought you would survive, then you have traveled to a region beyond death. Last weekend, Movement for the Urban Village‘s (MUV) Sankofa performance showed how our expressions (dance, music, words, names and silence) transcend boundaries and even death. As George Clinton says in “Mothership Connection,” “You have overcome, for I am here.”

The production opened with their “Bearers” dances which featured a soundtrack of Parliament-Funkadelic songs, “Music for My Mother,” “Mothership Connection,” “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.” “Bearers” riffed on the idea of sankofa as the six dancers looked as if they were performing a diasporic traditional ritual but to the sounds of the futuristic group’s music, creating a new ritual of their own. They presented an elegance, grace and power with their hips swiveling, foot stomping, legs kicking and arms twirling.

This continued in the next piece with the dance company’s director and choreographer, Shalewa Mackall, performing to a spoken word piece, “Minute,” about her love of and the power of words as well as of silence, dancing for a few minutes to no sound. The last piece, “Calling Names,” I saw a pre-production work of it and seeing it fleshed out with the dancers and the live music group was impressive because it seemed simultaneously choreographed, and organic and spontaneous.

“Calling Names” had four parts – “The Roll Stroll,” “The Gospels, “The Naming Ceremony,” and “Rest in Power, Rest in Peace.” The Roll Stroll detailed the dancers walking around and performing a dance move enacting a specific role like friend, mother, healer and victim, and performing whether they accept the role or not. “The Gospels” included old spirituals, “I Don’t Want That name No More,” “Scandalize My Name,” “Lord I”ve Been Changed (Angel in Heaven Done Sign My Name),” to which Tilisha Bradley did a moving, almost improvised dance, and “If He Changed My Name.” While all the dancers did well, dancer Efeya Sampson had the most commanding presence on the stage for the “If He Changed My Name” dance. The evening ended with “The Naming Ceremony” which had the dancers dancing in black church style as well as to spoken word and “Rest in Power, Rest in Peace,” a stirring tribute to those who have passed away, leaving with a trail of ashe’s replacing amen.

To me, one aspect of “Sankofa” is that the most basic future-projected idea is to simply say in a dance, in song or in a word — I was and I am here. And MUV definitely achieved that.

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