Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble– Philadelphia’s oldest African dance company dedicated to presenting and preserving culture, dance, and music of the African Diaspora – will travel to Guinea, West Africa, for a two-week residency, December 2 -16, 2008. The dancers will train with master artist Mariama Touré, and musicians with M’Bemba Bangoura, an internationally recognized performer of traditional Guinea drumming and dance. In addition, the troupe will observe and engage in master classes with Les Ballets Africains (National Ballet of Guinea). Kùlú Mèlé’s study of—and immersion in—the traditional culture and dance of Guinea will result in the U. S. premiere of an African-inspired ballet in May 2009.
A delegation of sixteen will be traveling to Guinea, including a film producer and a filmmaker who will document the residency for a film to be screened in conjunction with performances of the new work. During the residency in Guinea and continuing through the premiere of the work, the public will be able observe the creative process through an interactive blog at http://blog.kulumele.org that will include video of rehearsals and master classes, conversations with the dancers and musicians, photography, online discussions, and more. Kùlú Mèlé’s residency and the film are being funded by The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through Dance Advance with additional support from the Marketing Innovation Program.
This will be Kùlú Mèlé’s first time to receive this level of study in an authentic environment. The rigorous advanced training the troupe receives with Mariama Touré, M’Bemba Bangoura and Les Ballets Africains will enable them to develop performance techniques specific to that region. In addition, they will live and eat with the local townspeople of Conakry, Guinea, and meet with elders and griots (historians) from whom they will receive education in cooking, language, costume design, drumming, songs, and history. While engaged in this culturally rewarding experience, the troupe will also learn how the people of Guinea cope with living in an environment that is deeply challenged physically, economically and spiritually.
The company’s artistic director Dorothy Wilkie will collaborate with Touré and Bangoura to create an African-inspired ballet about the relationship between nature, the environment and humans, utilizing a traditional fable of a hippopotamus. The ballet will also draw upon themes inherent in nature and the process through which Africans evolve as they strive to achieve spiritual balance and equilibrium.
For almost 40 years, Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble has been creating dance/theater works based in aesthetic and traditional African cultural dance forms and has been leading the African cultural renaissance through performing arts in Philadelphia. Wilkie has collaborated with numerous local and international artists, choreographers, scholars and activists to create new works. Source material also comes from the troupe’s own experiences, from extensive outside research and training within the Diaspora, and the musical and movement forms of Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana and the Senegambia region, as well as African American and Philadelphia vernacular traditions including Hip-Hop, Bop, Cha-cha, and Slop.
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