February 2005

COBA Collective of Black Artists

Feb. 23 – 26, 2005 Harbourfront Centre Theatre Toronto

Inspirit (2001)
Choreography—Charmaine Headley
Bodika/Sessions (World Premiere)
Choreography—Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe
Musique Melange (arrangement of rhythms and chants)
Arrangement—COBA Musical Ensemble
Sabar (2004)
Arrangement—Alassane Sarr
Ho's N Head-w-Raps/Cheque yo Soul (World Premiere)
Choreography—Bakari E. Lindsay & Performers
Mbayan (2004)
Choreography—Alassane Sar
Report by Francine Poirier

There was magic in the air. An indescribable sensation that something out of the ordinary was about to happen. Bliss!

COBA, Collective of Black Artists, dazzled the Toronto crowd on Wednesday night at Harbourfront Centre Theatre with its cocktail of dynamic dance and exhilarating music performed by talented dancers and drummers who, if the decision rested entirely with them, would have entertained us the whole night through.

Inspirit which opened the program was an ode to freedom. Life force, communicated through flying bodies in figure-hugging garments, lascivious moves and happy smiles. This joyous fervour choreographed by Charmaine Headley expressed an attitude of mind. In some way, dance creates a continuance that locks you in and suddenly a different world emerges in front of your eyes.

In the second piece, the call of the drums rising in crescendo seeped furtively into my bowels, sending an electric shock up my spine. The musicians, in tune with the singers, sensing our enthusiasm enticed the crowd to clap and it obliged willingly. Romain Rolland could not have understood it more when he said: “Music means so much to us because it is the deepest expression of our soul.”

And the frenzy stopped.

Now, “can I have a soul clap…pour la terre oubliée?” Images of two white cells, one filled with the backbone of consciousness, on a black background. Sounds of strings punctuating the air. Ho’s N Head-w-Raps/Cheque yo Soul is the third offering. Choreographer BaKari E. Lindsay with much gnashing of teeth, muted revolts, calls Blacks to reappropriate their culture for fear of being dragged into an abyss where they will surely lose their soul. Culture is not for sale, right, but wearing “conscience costumes” is not enough. It is time to “check/cheque our souls”. It was not so much this credo of “Blackism”, an overly represented theme if you ask me, that most impressed me but the novelty of the presentation. Dance can indeed serve a social purpose.

Then came the pièce de résistance: Bodika/Sessions. The four dancers on the stage, dressed in black costumes with a coloured square at the bottom resembling the flags of the world, motionless in their space as if time had suspended its flight, were exquisite. Movement came, though the moves suffered sometimes from slight imperfections and Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe paid homage to spirituality and tradition through dance enhanced by a skillful blend of theatrical setting, beautiful music and splendid lighting. It was nevertheless a celebration of individuality endowed with universality. While I agree that human beings must immerse themselves in the waters of the past in order to achieve oneness, they should be able to transcend this past. Only then can they start speaking a language, whether it has an African, Caribbean or Asian flavour, which allows them to merge into the masses without losing their identity. Universal language.

From Mbayan
The last two works were by Alassane Sarr. Sabar, a musical arrangement, introduced Mbayan, an old traditional harvest dance in Senegal. Together they ended the show in a concerto in drum major where both musicians and dancers in shimmering African garbs exuded tremendous energy on the stage. The crowd did not take long before joining in the delight.

If you want my honest opinion, it was a great way to celebrate Black History Month.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Francine Poirier
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