Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s Kwanzaa Celebration

Last week my friend Debra Levine invited me to another dance performance; this one by Lula Washington Dance Theatre, who were giving their annual Kwanzaa celebration concert. This was one of the most enjoyable dance performances I’ve seen thus far in L.A. There were many pieces on the program – twelve in all! – and we were there for over three hours. The dances were mostly either African or American modern or a combination of the two, with some ballet thrown in, and music ranged from Fela Kuti to Steve Reich to Quincy Jones’ arrangement of Handel’s Messiah, to a live Samba band with a medley of conga drums that really made you want to get up and join the dancers. Most but not all of the choreography was by Ms. Washington, and one of my favorite pieces – a modern dance one from 2005 – was a very moving tribute to American soldiers, For Those Who Live and Die For Us.

My other favorite was Washington’s 1995 Harambe Suite (all of the photos posted here are of this dance), which encompassed the entire third act. There were a group of what I interpreted to be head tribesmen and women dancing at the back of the stage, behind a table bearing religious candles and celebratory food. A choir dressed in colorful, flowing African garb stood to the side and sang and danced. Children, one by one, would run onstage holding a corn husk or other item of food, which they would take to the table to add to the feast, before going to the center of the stage and breaking into a celebratory dance. Their dancing was accompanied by the singers as well as a live band, seated on the side of the stage opposite the choir.

Some of these kids were AMAZING – seriously; they are going to be stars! There was one little girl, named Tyler, who was the daughter of a professional dancer in the troupe, who just really blew me away. She had so much rhythm and was a real natural. She’s small now but is going to go far. And there was an older boy, a teenager, who could do some of the highest jumps I’ve ever seen. He also did this incredible back bend, bending his knees to lower himself slowly all the way to the ground, only to lift himself back up again by the strength of his legs alone without touching the floor. People went wild. It was incredible.

After the children, the adults came one by one to center stage and danced as well. They’d dance solos, eventually in groups. The children then came back out as a group, accompanied now not only by the choir and the drums but by the audience’s applause as well. After a while, the audience got up and danced at their seats, cheering all the way through.

Not every dancer was perfect – and some of the little kids you could tell were just embarking on their dance training, but that wasn’t at all the point. The evening was just a pure and simple celebration of movement, of being human. So perfect for the holidays.

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