Africa Sanke: West African Drumming and Dance

Ever since I took a class entitled African Repercussions, which focused on the music and dance of Africa, I have been fascinated with the rhythms and movements that define various African cultures. When I saw an advertisement for an African Sanke event in Catlett Music Center, I was intrigued; here was an opportunity to see the music and dance I had learned about in live performance!
When I entered the theatre, many drums were placed in a line across the back of the stage, and there was also a keyboard player and a guitarist positioned behind them. When the musicians began playing, I was immediately gripped by the energy of the performers and the the intricate layers of rhythm that they created together.
The dancers wore colorful and brightly patterned clothing, and utilized various kinds of movement to tell a simple love story. A man and woman fall in love with one another and subsequently celebrate their joyous union, despite the disapproval of village elders. The slower, calmer sections featured more languid movement, with the dancers utilizing basic stepping patterns to move around the stage and set the scene. The more exuberant sections featured the dancers rapidly moving their hips and torsos to the furious rhythms, shaking and vibrating in tandem with the drums.
What surprised me the most about this performance was the athleticism of both the dancers and the musicians. The drummers threw their bodies into their instruments, embodying the pulse they created through their playing. They were dancing through their playing as much as the dancers were creating visual music with their bodies. One of the biggest takeaways from my African Repercussions class was that African culture views music and dance as synonymous; they are not separate art forms, but rather a single harmonious artform. After watching this performance, I finally understood this union of music and movement.

East Meets West: A Celebration of Culture Through Music and Dance

Last year, students from the OU School of Dance were invited by Beijing Normal University to perform at an international dance festival hosted by their school. This year, OU reciprocated their generous outreach by inviting the student company at Beijing Normal University to participate in a short residency and to perform alongside OU dancers for a special evening of dance.
The night began with an acapella vocal performance by an OU graduate who has become a major personality in China. He sang two traditional folk songs in mandarin, and his voice filled the entire theatre. It was my first time listening to sung mandarin; it’s always interesting to hear how foreign languages sound in song versus when they are spoken colloquially.
The next performance of the evening was a traditional Chinese dance. The movements of the solo dancer were stunningly fluid; her long, flowing skirt accentuated this quality. She also wore an extravagant hairpiece that made her appear to have a larger, more pronounced presence. I was amazed by the delicate movements of her hands; Western dance styles often hyper focuses on virtuosity, but her performance was proof that subtle beauty can be equally as powerful.
The Beijing Normal students then performed two striking contemporary pieces. The first was extremely intense and acrobatic, the dancers flying across the stage to mechanical noise as a clock in the background ominously counted down. The movement of one of the dancers was continually manipulated by the other dancers, giving the impression of a story of the one against the many. The second piece, entitled “The Wall,” involved actual blocks that the dancers used to construct a wall around the body of one of the dancers. The breaking down and building up of the blocks was a powerful reminder of how we as humans have the ability to both create and destroy. It was interesting to me that both of these pieces seemed to be rooted in darker themes; these contemporary performances stood in sharp contrast to the light, spirited traditional dance of the evening.
Overall, I found this evening of dance to be extremely inspiring. Although the performers were from the other side of the world, they were able to communicate with the audience through a powerful, universal language: art.