Kusika, Ritmo Latino, Zambezi Band rock

A warm Caribbean wind swept through the Purple Valley this weekend, elating those who witnessed the joint performance of three outstanding ensembles: Kusika, Zambezi and Ritmo Latino. “Danza Carnival,” a culmination of the work of Winter Study and spring semester, invited the audience to an evening of dance and music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela and Southern Africa. The show effortlessly wove together unique and vibrant art forms from each of these countries for an overall celebration of their roots and modern manifestations. Beginning with an invocation to the orisha, or sacred spirits, and ending with an enthusiastic conga dance, it was a rich blend of traditional and contemporary, religious and secular music, that kept feet tapping, hands clapping and heads weaving with the rhythm.

The opening number featured Nigerian Bata drums played by Satya Ferreira, Dan King ’09 and Arif Smith, and a narrated introduction to the program. This led into the first part of the program, the Afro-Cuban Suite, which included numbers such as “Bembe,” “Vodun” and “Congo Laye.” In the first, a celebration of Afro-Cuban and Haitian sacred traditions, dancers embodied the spirits of the deities to the beat of resonating drums and vocals provided by Kusika, as well as guest musicians Jacquelin Magby ’11 and Hari Ramesh ’11.

Beautiful costumes by Karen Young and colorful lighting displays by Matthew Adelson brought a feeling of authenticity and excitement to the set. The dancers themselves were full of energy – Derek Lam ’11 was a perfect embodiment of the mischievous boy spirit Elegua, prancing around the stage like a four year-old at an amusement park. Cassie Bagay ’10 enchanted the audience in a gold dress as Oshun, goddess of beauty and love, while Colbye Prim ’09 moved as sinuously as an ocean wave, haughty and regal in her role as Yemaya, mother of the planet and keeper of the oceans.

In addition to the collaborative effort of students, faculty and staff, a talented crew of guest directors and choreographers joined in to help out with the program. Danis Perez Prades, Francisco Mora Catlett, Robert Michelin and Alport Mhlanga served as guest directors, and Diana Carolina Mantilla Mahecha and Arif Smith were guest choreographers of the show.

Next, the show moved to the western plains of Colombia and Venezuela with the Parrando Llanero Suite. Joropo, a style of music and dance known for its fast pace and passionate poeticism, is an important tradition of this area, as explained by Silvia Mantilla ’09 and Himilcon Inciarte ’10. Mantilla’s spirited rendition of “Carmentea” to the guitar playing of guest musician William Garza ’11 was vigorous, if a bit shaky. Zumba que Zumba, a fast-paced traditional joropo, challenged the dancers in performing the difficult steps, which draw from European waltz and as well as African influences.

Ritmo Latino, however, truly shone in “Rueda Linda” (Beautiful Wheel), a dance modeled upon rueda de casina. Rueda, a dance comprised of elements from salsa, mambo, rumba and son, was first developed in Cuba during the middle of the last century and is done primarily among black Cubans. Ritmo’s pizzazz really had a chance to come through in this high-energy dance, which involved classic circular formations and partner switching techniques.

The Zambezi Marimba Band, made up of two soprano and tenor marimbas, a baritone and a bass marimba, demonstrated its prowess in playing both traditional and contemporary Zimbabwean repertoire. “Siemboka,” a classic piece inspired by a girl’s initiation ceremony for her transition from childhood to womanhood, was the most elegant and cleanly executed of the three. The other two pieces were “Kopa” (Copy), a composition in the style of Zimbabwean blues and jazz music, and “Lloraras” (You Will Cry), a fun salsa-inspired tune that highlighted the ability of Zambezi’s chromatic marimbas, designed by director Ernest Brown, to play a wider variety of music than the conventional Zimbabwean instruments.

The creative exchange between dancer and musician in “Tocame La Bomba” (Play the Bomba for Me) was fun to watch. One by one, dancers took turns challenging the lead drummer to follow their movements with his beats, which led to an intriguing combination of dialogue and friendly competition. Bomba, which most likely originated in West and Central Africa, is a staple of Puerto Rican musical art. It includes several different regional styles, three of which were performed by Ritmo and Kusika.

The end of the show combined all three ensembles for a joyous carnival finale. At the cue of a giant spinning disco ball, the dancers moved off the stage and into the aisles, inviting the audience to participate in the celebration of song and dance. Then, the group swept out the door, leaving many of us in the audience with a broad grin from ear to ear and a compulsive hip-shaking that could not be stopped, even once past the doors of the ’62 Center.

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