Sankofa’s ‘Kind of Fly Academy’ soars

High school: a place some of us miss desperately and others couldn’t wait to leave. Regardless of our experiences, Sankofa took us all back with its excellent spring show, “K.O.F.A.: Kind of Fly Academy.”

The show was book-ended by two co-ed pieces, with the women’s and men’s squads alternating sets in between. The plot was a familiar one: the different Academy cliques must overcome their differences in order to save their chances of participating in the school pep rally. The men of Sankofa were quickly sent to detention after engaging in a homeroom fight, leaving the fly girls and cheerleaders to duke it out on their own.

In “Homeroom Drama,” the women started out with a complicated manuever involving half the squad stepping on and around chairs, while the rest used their entire bodies on the floor to keep the beat. For the rest of the segment, the rival cliques threw down a la West Side Story, with each gang often directly challenging in their steps what members of the other group had said or done. The groups were physically separated on stage in a set-up typical of many high school fights. One group claims its side opposite the other and glaring ensues, with occasional attempts to cross the invisible boundary in between and actually take a swing at someone. The taunts and catcalls used could have come directly from the halls of my high school, adding another layer of authenticity to the scenario.

In their second segment, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” the cliques learned to work together, as represented in their step “U-N-I-T-Y.” Members of both groups were interspersed throughout the lines across the stage, and unlike in previous steps, the different rhythms were not broken down by which clique the stepper belonged to.

The seniors had a nice solo moment out in front of the rest of the group, and the entire set was finished off in a V-formation with an interpretation of the high school anthem “Lip Gloss.” Those playing cheerleaders and the fly girls played off of the traditional stereotypes of both ditzy and aggressive high schoolers, but they were so over the top that one couldn’t help but be amused. Incorporating cheerleading moves and “urban” dance moves into the steps throughout also injected a unique flavor into the act.

The men of Sankofa’s cliques had a little more trouble learning to work together, although their stepping was almost totally in sync. Jocks beat up geeks several times during the show, allowing for some impressive displays of stage fighting as well as amazing backflips. At one point, the geeks all lost their glasses at the same time and performed a step lying on the ground as they tried to find them.

During “Peer Mentoring,” each of the jocks had a step-off with a geek who they then worked with in a partner step. The partners each carried a separate part of the rhythm, proving they could work together – although many of the men were still visibly fighting with their partners, to the amusement of the audience.

The men were even better at staying in character than the women, down to the physical aggression of the jocks and the geeks’ complete inability to dance (at least, before they lost the suspenders). In a particularly hilarious moment, the geeks demonstrated their method of attracting women by dancing to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It,” prompting the jocks to feel sorry for the geeks and tutor them one-on-one. As always, the men were incredibly intense, even to the point of breaking a cane during one of their routines, “Smooth Jocks vs. Smart Geeks.”

The music selection of the show was excellent. A highlight was the men’s final cane routine, performed to Timbaland and OneRepublic’s hit “Apologize.” The choreography perfectly complemented Timabaland’s intricate beat. The women also had a great piece done to Lil’ Mama’s “Lip Gloss” – even though the song itself is sparse, the choreography was not.

Costuming was also a strong point – each of the groups had its own style accurately reflecting its clique. The men’s jerseys and women’s cheerleading uniforms said “Sankofa” and were purple and white. The geeks looked quite spiffy in their suspenders and bow ties, while the fly girls could have fit in well in a dance club with their clothing.

The lighting was relatively simple: most of the battle sequences were front-lit, again calling to mind West Side Story. A large abstract image representing the school building was projected on a back curtain, which changed colors with the moods in each segment of the performance.

One minor problem was the insistence on switching colors at the end of each step before returning to that abstract image; those cues are hard to time and often felt unnecessary.

Over all, the performance was technically excellent, entertaining and well worth attending. It was more than kind of fly; it was straight up ballin’.