The Washington, D.C., step-dance company performs “The Migration Series: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence” two more nights, Feb. 17-18, at Meany Center at University of Washington
Perhaps you were unaware that your body is a percussion instrument … as are your shoes, the floor and, if you’re going on a journey, your suitcase.
Step Afrika! – a Washington, D.C., dance troupe – makes a hugely enjoyable case for bodies-as-percussion-ensemble in “The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence.”
‘Step Afrika! The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence’
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday (Feb. 17-18) Meany Center, University of Washington, Seattle; tickets $10-$50 (206-543-4880 or meanycenter.org). A free performance featuring excerpts from “The Migration” is at 1 p.m. Sunday, Seattle Art Museum lobby, 1300 First Ave., Seattle.
The show takes its storyline and visual cues from the African-American painter’s 1941 “Migration Series,” now on show at the Seattle Art Museum. The 60 panels in the series recount the great exodus of black workers from the rural South to the industrial North in the first half of the 20th century.
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Step Afrika! brings this saga to clattering, rambunctious life.
The show focuses on Africa in its first act, with a dozen performers deploying a full battery of drums to set the mood. There’s some coordinated movement among the drummers, but the wall of sound is the dominant force. As the action moves from Africa to the American South, the eras of slavery and Jim Crow are implied rather than spelled out, and African dance pulses evolve into new forms after tribal traditions are forced underground.
As one dancer says, “They took the drums away – but they did not stop the beat.”
The remainder of “Migration” is a feisty fantasia on tap dancing and the percussive dance styles of African-American stepping. Hand-claps, foot-stomps, chest-beats and the odd tambourine weave such intricate patterns that you wonder how the performers can pull them off without having a written score to follow. Their accompanying movement has an easygoing flair, but the unison passages are turn-on-a-dime tight.
“The Migration,” which marks the company’s Seattle debut, is an ensemble effort, not just in terms of performance but in the multiple company choreographers who collaborated on it. Still, there are standout solos, duets and trios that need mentioning.
Director Jakari Sherman and Andrew Vinson Jr., in a tap-dance/stick-dance duet, muster up some truly impressive syncopated-polyrhythmic ferocity. In “Wade Suite,” set to African American spirituals (mightily voiced by Brittny Smith), Charise Pinkston’s soulful solo has some gorgeous Martha Graham touches.
The show’s second act takes us North, where three new arrivals with suitcases in hand (Christopher Brient, Joe Murchison, Jordan Spry) reach ecstatic highs of sound-and-movement invention as they check out their new digs. They’re immediately followed by a female trio (artistic director Mfoniso Akpan, Dionne Eleby and Pinkston) finding unlikely tap possibilities, sometimes determined, sometimes downcast, in Nina Simone’s cover of the “Porgy and Bess” classic, “My Man’s Gone Now.”
A jazz-homage section leans more toward a 1970s-smooth sound than a period-authentic ’40s big-band exuberance. But the finale, “Chicago,” with its city slickers on the prowl, damsels seeking dates and one wandering sailor, ends “Migration” on a note of sheer jubilation.