Students celebrate black performance

In its third year, “Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance” serves to showcase black performance experiences at Williams and beyond. A night of student performance under the theme of “Seeing the Word, Hearing the Image” in Lasell Dance studio on Feb. 27 was just one of several events intended to cultivate African and African-American visual and creative performance on campus.

The three-hour event featured a wide variety of acts in a near packed house. The impassioned performances, ranging from soul and gospel music to dancing and rapping, clearly demonstrated the participants’ involvement and interest in the black performance tradition.

The night was designed to illustrate the immense variety of black works. With this goal in mind, it is difficult to criticize the array of performances. Using “Stalwart Originality” as a vehicle to showcase this variety was refreshing and encouraging.

Yet, no matter how well-intentioned an event, there is always the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes performers make mistakes, and there were certainly some raised eyebrows during some of the performances.

The award for performance of the night clearly went to Olufunmilayo “Fumi” Olosunde ’06. She brought the house down with her rendition of Jill Scott’s “He Loves Me” (Lyzel in E Flat), ripping into the warm, sexy ode with a honey-crisp alto that left the audience completely silent during the performance and brought them to their feet when the music ended.

The Gospel Choir gave a soulful performance of “Sweeter Than Anything I Know” that had the crowd rocking and clapping in the stands. Whether or not you believed in the message of the lyrics, you had to be dead to not feel the deep faith expressed.

Hatari (which means “dangerous” in Swahili), an all female step team from MCLA, delivered a short, self-choreographed performance that was well-received from the crowd.

However, Williams’ stepping squad, Sankofa, certainly was not in danger of being upstaged. The battle of the sexes between the men and women of Sankofa was powerful, expertly coordinated and loud, which is just the way a step team should be.

The women surrounded the group of men in an outward facing circle, performing different moves but centering around the same beat. Even a few mistakes on the part of a few members facing the larger segment of the crowd were not enough to detract from the incredible force of the performance. It seems like Sankofa is back, bigger and better than before.

SolKaFe had some obvious changes in its repertoire, which in previous performances had been lackluster and uncomplicated. A truly complicated breaking segment, replete with a “hand glide” move by Rory Kramer ’03, welcomingly pushed things up a notch for the group. It’s not an easy move and there were plenty more like it in this performance. Next thing you know, they will be head spinning, jack hammering and air tracking (some truly impressive breaking moves).

Not as impressive was the Capoeira segment of SolKaFe’s performance. Although the group proved its competence in this traditional Brazilian martial art during a winter study performance, here, the technique was lacking. Previously, the dance-like movements, combined with some well-timed close calls, resulting in an exciting delivery that kept the audience at the edge of their seats. This time around, the close calls weren’t nearly as well-calculated, and it showed. As the performers concentrated on their own moves, without regard for their partners, there were several instances of group members being hit in the face with wayward feet. In the end, the routine looked amateurish and unrehearsed.

Equally unimpressive was a local hip-hop group, The Transcendents. There were simply too many people on-stage – half of them serving little or no purpose. It looked like a bad rap concert. The few who actually did rap had a nearly inaudible delivery style, and the uninspired response from the audience to calls of “wave your hand from side to side” should have been reason enough to limit the performance to one song. No one wanted to hear 3 or 4 full-length numbers from this mess of a hip-hop group.

Nothin’ But Cuties closed out the show with a provocative dance to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” With the women dressed like bad girls and the guys decked out in camouflage inspired costumes, the group looked like they were ready to get grimy. The intense choreography showed that their founder’s departure has not left a void with regard to raw talent.

Overall, Stalwart proved that traditions in black performance at Williams are here to stay.

While some of the acts were not as impressive as others, the general spirit of a genuine and deep-seated interest in hip hop, soul, dance and other avenues of performance was ever-present. We look forward to this performance tradition getting even bigger and better.

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