By Jan Lee
Have you ever seen a fusion between African spirituality and House dance expressed through a theatrical dance performance of ancient African mythology?
Didn’t think so. “Afro-House,” a phrase coined by Dance Spirit magazine, has become popular within the last five years and is still developing. A crusader in the movement is Santiago Freeman. After hosting a dance event in 2005, Freeman decided to gather a group of the self-taught House dancers at the party to take their club/streets/park-bred art form to the performance stage. “A lot of the dancers who were coming to the party were so talented. They would dance all night in the “cipher” (a circle that forms around dancers), and I thought they were so amazing. I wanted to form a dance company that would bring these freestyle dancers together in an organized studio setting with the idea of trying to transition this art form to the concert stage,” he says. And so he became the Founding Director of the Dance Warrior Project – a Brooklyn-based Afro-House, theatrical dance company.
Afro-House blends traditional forms of Afro-Caribbean movement rooted in regions of the Caribbean, South America and Africa with the high-energy, improvised movements of House dancing that emphasize fast footwork and acrobatic styling (some moves are called “jacking” and “voguing” a la Madonna). The music is a fusion of African and Afro-Caribbean instrumentation with a house beat. Freeman further explains: “Afro not only describes a place of origin, it describes a state of mind that can be experienced through connection to the music. Afro-House, unlike other music I have heard, connects the dancer to his/her ancestral past. When I catch the ancestral spirit through dance, the feeling can only be described as ecstasy.”
The group’s performances encompass a series chronicling “the adventures of the Ajahla Tribe, a supernatural collective living in the rainforests of Brooklyn, 3016 A.D. Their tribe, consisting of the Fire Warriors, Earth Warriors, Thunder Warriors and Celestial Warriors, receive a gift of the Sacred Drum from the Warrior King. When the drum is stolen from the tribe by a mysterious gypsy, its members must embark on a journey to recover the Sacred Drum. Along they way, they discover that Mesu Ra, the Warrior Prince, is destined to transcend morality and become an orisha, or spiritual deity,” reads the Myspace page (www.myspace.com/dancewarriorproject). The narratives are derived from the mythology and spiritual tales of the ancient African Yoruba society.
No classes are available yet but catch Dance Warrior Project this summer at the following events to get caught up on the latest installment of the Ajahla Tribe:
May 27: “Dance Africa” @ Brooklyn Academy of Music
June 15: Bowery Poetry Club
July 14: “House Dance International” @ Alvin Ailey Dance Studios