By Jessica Lockhart
Sankofa Danzafro Convenient lie is a bold work of art that offers a much-needed history lesson.
Sankofa Danzafro at the Boch Shubert Theater on February 27
From the penultimate day of Black History Month, audiences at the Boch Center have had an unyielding look at the horrors of slavery and racism suffered by black people over the centuries. The gifted Afro-Colombian Sankofa Danzafro Company presented Convenient liea dance that was uncomfortable to watch, but oh so important to see.
It was not a joyful, uplifting example of African dance. The dancers were bound and bound with ropes, so they could not escape; they were forced to wear straw skirts and entertain white people; they were forced to line up and be auctioned off for the best price. The performers weren’t smiling; they looked at the spectators with a steely concentration that was terrifying.
The scenography included a huge and high wall of hanging straw. The dancers appeared from behind as they took the stage. It was a striking visual barrier that suggested a form of confinement: they had to come out of it and come back in after each scene. There were three musicians on stage, a band consisting of drums, native flute, marimba and vocals. The hour-long dance was presented in eight sections, divided into solos, duets and ensemble pieces.
A solo featured Yindira Perea Cuesta, whose wrists were constrained, attached to long ropes held by two others. She tried to break free, but her captors were too strong and determined. After struggling a lot as she contorts her body, she finally frees herself. Then, after a series of defiant gestures and movements, she stilled, taking her freedom. She slowly turned to the onlookers, gave them a challenging look, and left the stage. The following solo was danced by Yeison Moreno Cordoba: he appeared wearing a traditional grass skirt. His body started shaking and shaking, moving so frantically it looked like his body was ready to break. The rhythm quickened as the drums increased and he began to run in circles. He fell and got up, then fell again and again until he collapsed. The dancer Luis Armando Viveros Mosquera came on stage and took him in his arms, rocking him. Quietly and carefully, he gently placed him on the ground to rest. The moment was unbearably sweet and kind; we watched him as he quietly ministered to a broken soul. Mosquera then began what could have been a ritual, what appeared to be a “Call of the Demons”, an attempt to free them both by breaking a spell. The movements that ran through his body were fierce and rapid, reaching an impressive intensity. And then he suddenly stopped. Frozen again. The two men stood up, stared at the audience, and slowly left the stage.
Another scene showed six dancers standing in a row, as one by one they moved forward and stopped, then returned to the file. It was like the action on a fashion show, where models walk past the catwalk, stop and let others see them, then walk away. But it was a different show – it was about the slave trade. A voice, speaking in Spanish, was auctioning them off. He informed the crowd how much each person cost and that the auction was in full force. The human beings for sale did not fight because they were afraid for their lives. Buyers were lying to themselves that their actions were justified. This section was exceptionally powerful and disturbing, carried by the intensity of the dancers. At one point, the performers broke into a full body movement, their legs kicking, their torsos bending, their arms gesturing. The dramatic subtext was obvious: although they obeyed the authorities who mistreated them, slaves were inwardly defiant. Once again, the dances sent us their interminable glances. No smiles, no grimaces – just solve.
The dancers were costumed by Diana Echandia in pointed suit pants and jackets, which contrasted with grassy skirts. It is important to know why the director and choreographer Rafael Palacios named his company “Sankofa”, which means “returning to the roots”. He founded the company in 1997 in Medellin, Colombia, and the name refers to an African philosophy that proposes to “know the past as a condition to understand the present – as a way to see the future”. Hence the topicality and timelessness of the troupe’s political aesthetic: understanding the horror of slavery is therefore essential to see how and why racism exists today. And why police brutality has escalated because of the growth of the Black Lives Matters movement. Over the centuries, the energy of black liberation has been violently contained. With Convenient lie, Palacios and his exceptional dancers have created a bold work of art that provides a much-needed history lesson.
Jessica Lockhart is a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts in Dance Criticism and holds a BA in Communications from the University of Southern Maine. Lockhart is an award-winning freelance journalist with the Maine Association of Broadcasters. Currently, she is also working as a Program Director at WMPG Community Radio.