Dance New Amsterdam, Facing Eviction, Hosts an Africa-Themed Duet


Souleymane Badolo and Nora Chipaumire titled their collaborative piece Art/Family/Our Lives: I Ka Nye (You Look Well), and they do indeed look well—both healthy and handsome. A photo in their lobby exhibit at Dance New Amsterdam shows them with their heads close together—she lipsticked, smiling, and wearing a bright head scarf, he pleased. I Ka Nye says more about their differences, with Ghanaian master drummer Obo Addy as both musician and mediator.

Chipaumire was born and bred in Zimbabwe; she came to the U.S. to do graduate work, dance, and choreograph. Badolo is from Burkina Faso and maintains a troupe there, while also working in Europe and America. Their native countries are miles apart and they were raised in different African traditions, although both have studied and performed contemporary Western styles. This modest, engaging piece frames them as diverse individuals—powerful, charming, sly, and witty in their own ways.

Chipaumire begins the piece alone in an arena enclosed by spectators on three sides. Wearing a short skirt and a plain blouse, she holds a bouquet and looks demure at first. But there’s nothing perfumed about her dance. She’s an amazon—tall, lean, and muscular, with a shaved head and a gorgeous bone structure. When she lunges deeply, her legs define a big swath of ground. She stretches her arms like wings, and the walls seem to vibrate. While she moves slowly, pensively, and with a velvety smoothness, Badolo’s offstage voice, speaking to her in French, says things like, “I want to spend the rest of my life beside you.” She in turn repeats her pattern to Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” which she has punched out of a red boombox.

Addy enters in traditional attire, circles the space, gives his hips a shake, settles in one of several chairs, and strikes his drum. Lighting designer Amanda K. Ringger makes the room sunnier, and Badolo, wearing trousers and a short-sleeved shirt, starts dancing. His style is unlike Chipaumire’s space-covering one. He hunches over and keeps his legs fairly close together and his elbows near his body. He’s a wonderfully slippery fellow. His knees, hips, shoulders, head, and softly treading feet enter into intricate, polyrhythmic negotiations with Addy’s percussion.

When Chipaumire returns, she hurls herself onto him, and he carries her as if she were a large, limp child. That’s almost their only moment of physical contact. Instead, they converse in movement. Badolo’s rapid, nonstop maneuvers make Chipaumire smile or shake her head in wonder or mild exasperation. Over and over, she asserts a bold phrase of movement. Sometimes she lunges and curves an arm the way he does; sometimes he spreads his arms or lifts a leg in sympathy with her.

And sometimes you wonder where this fetching, low-keyed collaboration is heading. Its structure is slightly tentative, as if the two were feeling their way. Twice, they pose holding up a large picture frame—she putting on her best, good-girl look, he smiling hopefully. After an echt-postmodern interlude in which she tells him to stop what he’s doing and join her for the next part, they manage some unison. Then Addy tackles a sort of balafon (its wooden slat keys covered by a metal sheet), Badolo takes off in his own steps again, speaking in an African tongue, and Chipaumire starts to tell (translate?) a legend of the Mossi people about a warrior princess and expert horsewoman, who meets a hunter from another tribe.

Badolo’s a fool for dancing. Chipaumire, seated and flipping rubber bands like baby slingshots, has to grab him to make him stop. Finally, Addy strikes a small, boxy clay instrument, and the two move more fully into unison, even though, like the lovers in the legend, they come from different tribes and speak different languages. And the tale’s ending? The princess and the hunter have a son who is as strong as his mother, “and that’s how the kingdom of the Mossi came to be.”

A video playing in the lobby shows Chipaumire walking down a highway and along an African path. She meets Badolo and throws herself onto him, as in I Ka Nye, again and again. He walks on and she keeps throwing herself, grabbing empty air, before continuing her path. I trust that’s the beginning, not the end of their story.

And, as DNA’s fall season proceeds, we can hope for a happy conclusion to another story: the organization’s dire situation in regard to its lease, annual rent, and indebtedness to Fram Realty, which leases two floors of the building from the city. September 27 is the new court date for eviction proceedings against this immensely valuable nonprofit school and performance space. The two parties are trying to reach an agreement before then. Fingers crossed, you all!

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