“A journey through the rhythms of the African diaspora” is how Abdel Salaam describes Rhythm Legacy, which plays Tuesday at Aaron Davis Hall during Forces of Nature Dance Theatre’s 19th Annual Kwanzaa Regeneration Night. Though Salaam sounds like an encyclopedia of African cultural history, his dances are anything but academic. His movement base spans centuries and continents: ritual, social, and theater dance; tap, swing, and hip-hop. Sinuous spines undulate; bodies fold forward from the hips, arms whirling; hands cup the air, shoulders ripple, heads bob gently. A dancer sprays liquid (traditionally rum but at a recent performance emanating from an iced-tea bottle) from her mouth in a vodun trance. Simple patterns repeat, transform, and crescendo. Salaam, 49, adds modern-dance savvy, theatrical structure, and infectious live music.
“Rhythm Legacy is centered around ancestral stuff,” he says. A Haitian segment gives way to “juba plantation dances with their origin in Zaire, Senegal, or Guinea. Irish jigs cross-pollinated with juba” begat tap dancing. Included are a “ring shout,” where ancestral blessings are sought, to a pantomime of scavengers preying on the dead. These “buzzard lopes,” he explains, are about finding strength to move through weakness. He invokes the concept of the “living book.” Like oral history, dance and song carried information down through generations. “In the slave belt, people couldn’t read. The Afro-centered stuff of culture is dance and music and narrative. They ‘read’ it by seeing it, singing it, experiencing it live.”