by Courtney Colón for The Dance Journal
The theater is packed, a buzzing excitement snaking its way through the crowd. A joyful call and response connect audience and performers in ways rarely seen at the theater, as three members of Kulu Mele hearken back to those that have come before in a traditional ritual. Together, we welcome into our hearts and minds, past and current Kulu Mele members, and freedom fighters both then and now. Soon, the lights dim, and a pregnant pause builds. Suddenly, music, rhythmic and bold, explodes into being – drummers onstage wail on their instruments, and I begin to dance in my seat. The dancers enter, several pouring in from each side of the stage, arms swinging and feet moving dazzlingly to the polyrhythmic beat. Instantly, I am hooked.
Journey is a fully engaging experience. Feel the pounding vibrations during the drumming interludes referencing dances from Guinea, Mali, and the Ivory Coast. Witness the embodiment of African dance traditions as dancers swathed in luscious colors or donning intricate masks move to the music, creating complex patterns onstage. Listen as the excited audience continuously calls out their appreciation and the performers reciprocate, creating a feedback loop that builds energy in the theater ever higher. And sing along as solo vocalist and company dancer, Tekeytha Amelia Fullwood sings, her voice sultry and smooth as river stones.
The dancers and musicians of Kulu Mele perform Journey with joyful exuberance and immense technique. Tradition is steeped within every intricate step and flick of the wrist. A connection is constantly fostered, as performers maintain eye contact with each other and converse with the audience. And the future of the company is glimpsed as the children of Kulu Mele show us what they can do, letting the audience know that the traditions upheld by the company will continue for years to come.
Journey led me to places such as Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and the United States, and I followed as if on a leash. The cultural art forms that the performance epitomized fostered a deep and satisfying connection easily felt within the room. It was a breeze to watch such an ebullient and dignified showing and understand implicitly why Kulu Mele has been regarded as a cultural institution for nearly fifty years. I am left brimming with anticipation, excited to witness what the next fifty years of Kulu Mele will bring
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