DanceAfrica, the nation’s largest African dance festival, returns to BAM for the 38th year with its traditional Memorial Day weekend extravaganza of dance, music, film, and community events from May 22 – 25.
Brazil’s foremost folk dance company Balé Folclórico da Bahia leads this year’s program with the theme Brazilian rhythms. African roots. DanceAfrica 2015 also pays tribute to its beloved founder Charles “Chuck” Davis, who steps down as artistic director after this year’s festival.
About half of the 200 million Brazilians can trace some part of their ancestry to Africa. Balé Folclórico da Bahia reflects that heritage. The 32-member ensemble of dancers, musicians, and singers performs repertory based on Bahian (a northern state) folkloric dances of African origin and includes slave dances, capoeira (a form of martial arts), samba, and those that celebrate Carnival. The company is known for its high-energy dance which often rouses the audience to their feet and dance in the aisles. In addition, Bambara Drum and Dance Ensemble from the Bronx and Brooklyn’s BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble return to the festival this year.
This is the last year that DanceAfrica will be led by its founding artistic director Chuck Davis. Starting in 1977 with his own company and an “African Village” in the BAM Lepercq Space, Davis directed the festival continuously for almost four decades and nurtured it to become BAM’s longest-running and one of its most popular programs, with indoor and outdoor performances, a bazaar, films, visual arts, educational events, and community components.
More than 80 companies from the Ivory Coast, Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zaire, Benin, Uganda, Ghana, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Zambia, Madagascar, Brazil, and all across the U.S. have participated in the festival over the years, demonstrating the wide range of African and African diasporan dances. “After 38 years, I’m happily moving aside to allow for fresh new ideas from my ‘Danceson’ Brother Abdel Salaam,” said Davis.
Abdel R. Salaam assumes the title of artistic director for DanceAfrica 2016. Davis will continue to be involved as artistic director emeritus. The DanceAfrica community pays tribute to its beloved “Baba Chuck” at the performance on May 25.
On Saturday, May 16, the students from Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration will also present a special tribute to Davis, who singlehandedly shaped their African dance program. The tribute will be held at Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza (1368 Fulton St., Brooklyn) at 1:00 p.m.
A Tribute to the Ancestors ceremony will be held at 10:00 a.m. on May 16 at the Weeksville Heritage Center (1698 Bergen St., Brooklyn). This traditional ceremony, which includes dancing and music by participating artists, is an integral part of DanceAfrica that honors elders who have passed on. The event is free and open to the public.
The Memorial Day weekend celebration also includes the popular DanceAfrica outdoor Bazaar which hosts more than 150 vendors selling crafts, food, and fashion; FilmAfrica, a BAMcinématek film series at BAM Rose Cinemas; master classes for families and adults; and a Late Night Dance Party at BAMcafé.
The 2015 recipients of the Samuel H. Scripps BAM Scholarship for post-secondary education will be presented with their awards on the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House stage. Inspired by the spirit of DanceAfrica, BAM Trustee Richard Feldman launched the Samuel H. Scripps BAM Scholarship Fund in 2008, in memory of former BAM Trustee and arts patron Samuel Scripps.
The scholarship exclusively benefits students who have participated in BAM’s arts education programs, including the DanceAfrica Education initiative.