On Friday and Saturday nights, students and members of the Williamstown community gathered en masse at the ’62 Center for “Sankofa: All of the Lights,” the Williams step team’s final performance of the year. As the lights dimmed, the audience cheered enthusiastically as self-described “drill sergeants” for the men’s and women’s step groups Felix Owusu ’11 and Giselle Jimenez ’11 emerged onto the stage, reminding us all that this would be an “interactive” performance. “Let us know what you like and we’ll send that energy back to you tenfold!” they shouted. Throughout the performance, the audience screamed out encouragement to their friends, shouting out names and commenting on the talents of the steppers.
Unlike Sankofa’s performance during the step competition held at the College earlier this year, for this show the steppers created a loose plot that tied the individual dances together. As the show began, the “host,” Ifiok Inyang ’11, strolled onto the stage, welcoming us to a step competition between four different groups from across America – California’s L.A.X., Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, New York’s Concrete Jungle and Texas’ Southern Comfort.
The step “competition” opened with L.A.X., a group of five steppers dressed in stereotypically Californian garb, including Cali tee shirts and flowered headbands. They roused the audience to cheers with quick beats and coordinated movements. Next up were the four members of the Chicago team, dressed in jeans and coordinated red, white and blue ensembles. They stepped to the beat of Lupe Fiasco’s “I Gotcha.” The third team, Concrete Jungle, performed a piece characterized by great mobility as dancers wove their shoulders back and forth, stepping not only while standing but also while sitting and lying down. The final group, Southern Comfort, emerged in Texan garb to perform the last piece of the competition, during which they created patterns of beats by spinning in circles, splitting into pairs and slapping their hands and feet against those of their partners.
As the show continued, the scene transitioned to a mock backstage area where the four groups were celebrating their success. As the groups mingled, one stepper proclaimed that she just wanted to keep dancing. Her first steps eventually led to a step combination in the vein of a light-hearted West Side Story, as different groups of steppers competed to add more and more complicated beats, eventually culminating in a powerful step combination. Following this dance, the steppers decided to combine groups for a Hollywood audition to take place in the next couple weeks.
When the next scene opened, the steppers were gathered together to practice before the audition. In an arresting piece, the steppers decide to create a dance by simply improvising the beat, slowly adding more and more layers until suddenly they broke into a breathtaking and fully developed pattern. When after this number many of the steppers were exhausted by the exertion required for so much stepping (many falling to the ground and comically refusing to get up again) the male steppers decided to go to the gym to build up their strength. Meanwhile, the women stayed behind to practice their steps one last time before the audition. In a dance that roused the audience to cheers, the women began their dance in a line, stepping without music to complicated patterns that rippled up and down their rows. Following the women’s only solo number, the scene shifted to the gym, where the men performed several numbers of their own.
Finally, the scene opened on the audition itself, where the women, then the men and then the whole of Sankofa performed climatic final numbers. For the show-stopping final song of the night, the entire ensemble stepped in coordinated patterns to “All of the Lights” by Kanye West while the stage lighting flashed and shifted colors and intensity, sometimes bleaching the steppers in white light, other times bathing them in red or reducing them to mere black silhouettes against a deep red background.
Adding to the high entertainment value of the night, the step show was sprinkled with light comedy that had the audience laughing in their seats, keeping spirits high throughout the performance. During the section of the show in which the men of Sankofa go to the gym, for example, one performer, Tre Colbert ’14, made hilarious attempts to keep lifting a heavy weight, feigning excruciating effort, while another simply collapsed from exertion at the end of the dance and had to be dragged partway off the stage. In another section of the show, as the Sankofa group prepared to perform the audition piece, the voice of the announcer spoke out in a ridiculously bored tone that had everyone in the audience giggling.
After seeing the step competition earlier in the year, I had jumped at the opportunity to see another performance, and I was certainly not disappointed. The members of Sankofa stepped and performed with enthusiasm and spirit, creating a show any student at the College would be bound to enjoy.