In a vibrant production, Berkeley High School’s African American Studies Dance Program presented a series of various performances — each as strong and compelling as the next — on Thursday at the Berkeley Community Theater. The performances came together to make up the night’s dance concert, “Redemption: Regaining Control.” Its subject matter is based upon the concept and studies of African diaspora, a representation of the school’s African American Studies Department, which will achieve its 50th anniversary next year.
During the introduction to the night, the lead choreographer and teacher of the program, Naomi Washington Diouf — known to the high school community as “Mama” Washington — disclosed that the comprehensive theme of redemption and regaining control was conceived by the student performers themselves. Continuing the introduction, Washington emphasized the show’s aim of communicating feelings and connecting to culture through movements of the body as to convey the “message in the movement.”
The production included an array of different styles of dance and performance, including traditional African dance, Haitian interpretative dance, salsa, hip-hop and contemporary. These dances were paired with a range of musical choices from traditional African composition to more modern and well-known songs, such as the crowd-pleasing “Formation” by Beyoncé. While the dancers onstage were immensely talented, students offstage also received a chance to shine as they provided musical accompaniment.
The BHS Jazz Ensemble band accompanied a number of the performances and provided the introductory and exit interludes, further demonstrating the talented array of BHS students. The live music was a strong addition to the night, contributing to its elaborate production value. All the more, the performance variation, coupled with the show’s act of interweaving ranging styles and music, effectively kept the audience’s attention. This choice resulted in a fluid and sensational production, with each piece leading smoothly into the next and each piece connected to the larger production.
The talent and passion from the mass of performers — about 300 high school students in total — is not only commendable, but also worth pinpointing as the driving force of the production’s effectiveness. The young dancers exerted immense confidence and passion, noticeably dedicating their bodies to every movement. The resulting product proved to be utterly captivating. Any noticeable mistakes only added charm, further emphasizing that the point of the production was not perfection, but rather the students’ passion.
But the most notable details of the night were the elaborate and beautiful costumes worn by the performers. Many costumes were bright, colorful and eye-catching in material and design. Others were simpler, however, playing more with the contrast of black and white. The vibrant costuming embodied the impeccable choreography from the school’s creative team, a group of talented professional choreographers under the direction of Washington.
Their combination resulted in a stunning visual picture that persisted throughout “Redemption.” The bright skirts twirled around with the dancers’ movement, accentuating the flow of bodies trailing on stage with captivating, choreographed moves. The image of the mass of dancers turning in a large circle on stage, with their bright costumes blurring in movement, is especially memorable.
Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff
Each dance was unique, as were its accompanying costumes. But it would be difficult for audiences to pick just one performance, or just one costume, that stood out above all. The two aspects complemented each other, blending together in an absorbing display and celebration of culture.
As the talented performers immersed themselves into different cultures, they helped increase the digestibility of history via modern mediums. Traditional and contemporary dance were smoothly intertwined within the night’s routines, culminating in a successful bridge of cultures and ideas.
These performances were designed to be a promotion of self-expression through movement. This intention not only remained clear, but it also was indisputably achieved. BHS’s students enchanted audiences as they engaged with and celebrated culture. Their radiant enthusiasm was the foremost component of the gripping performance, with their immense talent only adding to the success of the night’s production.
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].