Tears of Joy for Kulu Mele’s 50th Anniversary Project Release

by Emma Elsmo for The Dance Journal

In a room filled with undeniably contagious energy, Kulu Mele discussed their 50th anniversary project release at the Performance Garage this past Saturday. The company recently returned from an eight day trip to Santiago de Cuba and spent time training under the fellow artists of Ballet Folklorico Cutumba de Santiago to Dorthy Wilkie’s Ogun & the People. Wilkie’s ode to the tale about a romance between Ogun, the god of war and iron, and Oshun, the goddess of love, marriage and fertility, in Cuban and African folklore. It’s said that Oshun was responsible for coaxing Ogun out of hiding when he became so frustrated with the world around him. From what I could sense, the work is a going to be a literal interpretation of the story filled with radiant costumes and exhilarating choreography.

While there was no performance of the new work, Kulu Mele presented a video trailer promoting the piece as well as showcasing their trip to Cuba. Filled with colorfully vibrant footage and hilariously entertaining personal videos, the company of dancers clearly had an eye-opening travel experience. It was comedic and emotional all once and enticed me as a viewer into wishing I had been alongside them while they danced through the streets and climbed through the mountains. Throughout the film there were tears of joy symbolizing the extreme emotional impact for every individual.

The video provided insight on the trip itself, but it was the talk-back post trailer that allowed the audience to really connect with the dancers in an extremely personal way. While the company spoke to the eye opening nature of traveling to a city where people simply need each other rather than needing material goods they allowed us a deeper glimpse into their travels. As they spoke about the basic nature of living spaces and about how the love that goes into creating the homes it made the experience all the more welcoming. The perfectly crafted family in front of the audience moved us as they spoke about the commitment to doing precisely what they love- dancing unabashedly for eight days straight- and the struggle of coming back to a life less than dedicated to moving wholeheartedly. The beauty in the vulnerability moved some of the audience to tears, and most of the audience to vocalized praise and acknowledgment of the bared souls in front of us.

As children ran happily around the stage, the cast continued to create a space that screamed support and love for one another. Individual dancers sung the praises of others through anecdotal stories and personal growth. They spoke with such love and admiration it was undeniable the company was more than just a cohort of people who share the passion. They are a company of dancer who share their lives, and I felt incredibly privileged to have been part of the family just for the few hours I was there. I look forward to being an audience member when Ogon & the People premiers in the Fall of 2019, and just possibly getting to be part of their family again.