Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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BAM:“Les Ecailles de la Memoire”

For years the Brooklyn Academy of Music has hosted some of the most brilliant and inspiring productions on stage, as well as musical and cinematic performances. Dozens of composers, musicians, and directors have set foot in this marvelous building to provide culturally enriching experiences for over 500,000 visitors annually. In a limited engagement this fall, the Urban Bush Women came to BAM to tell their story of the African Diaspora through dance. Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar put together a wonderful mixed cast of native Senegalese and African American dancers and set the stage alive with heart-throbbing music and lighting to create a joyful, cultural experience.
Sitting at the very back row of the mezzanine does not hinder the effect of this ravishing performance at all. The pulsating beats of the African drums reverberate throughout the whole auditorium creating an almost suspenseful effect at times. Music plays a huge role in this show, almost carrying the whole plot along. The loud and clear beats of the drums as well as the smooth sound of woodwinds makes the atmosphere possible, whether it creates a climax during a scene of tension, or whether it allows you to sit back and relax as one of the professional dancers curves her body on stage like a writhing snake. The sounds accompany the dancers very well, as the combination of the two makes this performance joyful and lively.
We have to give credit to Acogny and Zollar as they went all the way to Senegal to scout some of their dancers, and what talented dancers they are. For an hour and a half, they jump, leap, bend, thrash and twist, in a series of beautifully synchronized motions. Anyone who knows at least something about the art of dance can understand that these individuals work hard and are definitely professionals. The men are often topless, which not only symbolizes the native tradition, but also allows us to see the physical endurance needed for many of the acrobatic stunts. The dancing ability is something to marvel at, but in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, it also exposes the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of African Americans and Africans.
Although Urban Bush Women is mainly a show of dance and music, it does somewhat tell a story. It may not be immediately visible, especially that there are hardly any words spoken throughout the show, but for the most part it explores the struggles and suffering of African people, possibly in relation to slavery, and how they transform these struggles into the joy of survival. Some scenes are indeed sad and gloomy, but they are immediately shifted to happy and excited. Mixed in with a humorous love scene at the end, the performance comes full circle as it leaves the audience content but wanting more.
Urban Bush Women brings something fresh and new to an aging yet ever so popular venue. Acogny and Zollar fill the walls of BAM with tribal and spiritual music and dance that keeps the audience interested and uplifted. This is a must-see cultural experience worth a dozen standing ovations.