On Saturday, Feb. 4 Asase Yaa African American Dance Theater celebrated its 16th anniversary by performing a ballet, “Ghana: The Place Where the Chief Sleeps” to a full house at Symphony Space.
The company’s name Asase Yaa is Twi, an indigenous Ghanaian language meaning “Mother Earth.” The ballet they performed “Ghana” is an original ballet by the company’s Artistic Director Yao Ababio. The Ghana depicted is the ancient African Kingdom of Ghana, which included a larger landmass than the current West African nation of Ghana, and included several ethnic groups.
This was a very special concert for Asase Yaa, and its members were up to serious business. The dancers were on their “A” game, and their movements were fluid and precise. The drummers played extremely weel and were engaging throughout the performance. They fused polyrhythms from Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Cuba, and original rhythms and beats from the company, itself.
The audience was enthralled from the first dance movement and drum beats. Throughout the concert the audience members were audible participants. At times, they were on their feet cheering and dancing in place. It was an amazing night of high energy, fine dancing, and drumming, and audience enjoyment.
The ballet was in two acts with an intermission. The ballet evolves around the high priestess representing Asase Yaa (mother goddess earth). She was in control of all animals and the four elements: earth, water, fire and wind. With her were the two spirits representing, the balance of mankind, the male and female initiates. The high priestess groomed and taught the ways of the world to a young boy, who was to become a great chief. The female initiate tried to usurp the powers of the high priestess, but was chastised and put in her place. Later, scavengers invade the shine of the four elements, and with the aid of the female initiate strip the high priestess of her power. She is rescued by the male initiate and brought to the chief, who as a child was the young boy groomed by the high priestess. He assists her in regaining her power, and order is restored.
Asase Yaa members are basically from Brooklyn and Queens. The company started in 2001. Many of the members had been performing together for years and collectively they felt that they had something different to offer in African dance. Their first performance was at the International African Arts Festival. Since then, they have gone on to establish a strong company of dancers and drummers, and establish a dance school located in Brooklyn. The Executive Director is Kofi Osei Williams and the Artistic Director of the School of the Art is Zakiya Harris.
Asase Yaa has been selected to participate in DanceAfrica 2017, and will be performing with Forces of Nature, and one other company in this year’s festival.