Urban Bush Women, Acogny Celebrate Reopening of Goodhart

Posted February 1st, 2010 at 5:40 am.

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Resistance, memory, and love drive the centerpiece of a penetrating evening of dance at Bryn Mawr this winter. As part of the 25th  anniversary of Bryn Mawr’s Performing Arts Series and the opening celebration of the newly renovated Goodhart Hall, the college is presenting a vibrant evening of works by Urban Bush Women with Senegalese legend Germaine Acogny, the celebrated director of Compagnie Jant-Bi, and her star dancer Kaolack (Pape Ibrahima Ndiaya) on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m.

Tickets to the Urban Bush Women/Germaine Acogny concert are $18, $15 for senior citizens, and free for Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff. Tickets are $10 for students of other schools, and $5 for children 12 and under. Priority seating is available for $80 subscription packages ($65 packages for senior citizens). For more information and tickets, call the Office for the Arts at (610) 526-5210; tickets are also available online at brownpapertickets.com.

Goodhart Hall recently underwent a $19 million renovation, and the Urban Bush Women concert will be the Performing Arts Series’ inaugural performance on the new stage. Urban Bush Women have been widely heralded for their electrifying performances. “Urban Bush Women are in a category of themselves. In fact, given the breadth and freedom of their art, they defy categorization,” said New York Newsday. Deborah Jowitt in The Village Voice wrote about the company, “Dancing can run through their bodies like warm honey, or like steel stiffening them for battle. Their expressive powers shake the theater.”

At the center of this exciting evening are two heralded works: the women’s section of Les écailles de la mémoire (The scales of memory) and Walking with Pearl … African Diaries. Both pieces showcase Urban Bush Women’s dedication to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. Both works weave contemporary dance, music, and text with the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of African Americans and the African Diaspora, exploring the transformation of struggle and suffering into the bittersweet joy of survival.

Les ecailles is a piercing movement treatise exploring the meeting of African and U.S. history. A renowned collaboration between Germaine Acogny, a legend in her native Senegal, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Women, the work is typically performed by an all-female troupe based in the United States and an all-male troupe based in Senegal. Only the women’s section will be performed at Bryn Mawr.

Walking with Pearl … African Diaries was inspired by African-American dance pioneer and social activist Pearl Primus, the first American choreographer to go to Africa, which she visited initially in 1948. Primus played an important role in the presentation of African dance to American audiences. Early in her career, she saw the need to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. Reacting to myths of savagery and the lack of knowledge about African people, Primus’ work was an effort to guide the Western world in viewing African dance as an important and dignified statement about another way of life. The piece is based on her diaries of her travels.

To enhance the audience’s understanding of the performance, Bryn Mawr will host a postshow panel discussion between Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar with renowned cultural historian Brenda Dixon-Gottschild.  Dixon-Gottschild, who has done extensive research on Urban Bush Women and followed the process of the making of Ecailles, will compose the program essay on the piece. Dixon-Gottschild has been instrumental in bringing to light the Africanist presence in European-based American concert dance. In addition to her scholarly work, Dixon-Gottschild is a practicing choreographer and performer. She is the Philadelphia correspondent for Dance Magazine, where she writes features and reviews on a range of topics from the Pennsylvania Ballet to hip hop.

The evening will also include Acogny’s new solo, Songook Yakaar, and a new work by her star male dancer, Kaolack (Pape Ibrahima Ndiaya). The piece, J’Accuse, took first prize at the 2008 Danse Afrique Danse oncours. Urban Bush Women company member Catherine Dénécy will also perform a solo work. Dénécy is a former member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

Given the cultural importance of these artists, Bryn Mawr College’s Performing Arts Series is reaching out to the Philadelphia dance community and offering a master class with Acogny and Zollar. The class will run from 4-6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12. Call (610) 526-5210 for reservations.

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