Heritage Sunday, Where the Dancer Is the Drummer


An article by Siobhan Burke for The New York Times.

As the temperature crept up to 90 degrees on Sunday, a three-hour outdoor performance didn’t seem like the most attractive afternoon activity. But any qualms about the heat quickly faded as Heritage Sunday, an annual presentation of Lincoln Center Out of Doors and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, got underway.

This year’s edition, “Global Beat of the Bronx: From Bambara to Breakbeats,” brought together four Bronx-based troupes to show the wealth of cultural traditions flowing to, and from, that northernmost borough: Bombazo Dance Company, Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company, Bambara Drum and Dance Ensemble and Full Circle Souljahs. As crowds gathered under the trees at Hearst Plaza in Lincoln Center, the vitality of drumming and dance lifted the weight of the muggy day.

Bombazo, directed by Milteri Tucker Concepción, specializes in the Afro-Puerto Rican form Bomba, danced in long, layered skirts to drums known as barriles. A row of male percussionists (including one junior member who couldn’t have been more than 10) accompanied an ensemble of women in flowing red and white, though “accompanied” suggests too great a gulf between the pulse of the music and the proud, hip-swaying, shoulder-shaking movement. As Ms. Concepción explained in a post-show talk, the lead drummer in Bomba often takes cues from the dancer; the dancer, in that sense, is the drummer.

 That interconnectedness — the challenge between musician and dancer — was a theme of the afternoon, emerging powerfully again in the work of Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company. This troupe dedicates itself to preserving the culture and language of the Garifuna people, descendants of West and Central Africans and Caribbean Native Americans who have lived in Central America since the 1700s.
What began as a solemn, flag-carrying ritual burst into something much wilder, as the performers, in a line at the front of the stage, sounded a celebratory chant to the beat of the maracas in their hands. In both choreographed and casual ways, men and women performed the punta, in which the hips shimmy such that they seem independent from, yet harmonious with, the rest of the body.

The rousing Bambara Drum and Dance Ensemble offered a glimpse into Malian traditions and, from Ivory Coast, some surprisingly acrobatic stilt-walking. And Full Circle Souljahs gave a whirlwind tour of hip-hop dance styles from the 1970s through the present. The company’s co-founder, Kwikstep, could be found in the D.J. booth, serving, in his words, as a modern-day drummer. His laptop and tables, as he later described it, were his drum.

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