Duniya dances to the beat of West African culture

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Last Saturday, the audience at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance at the University of Minnesota got a taste of West Africa from the Bangouras, an immensely talented family from Guinea whose knowledge of the complex rhythms, and acrobatic and multifaceted movements runs deep.

Lead drummer Fode Bangoura co-directs Duniya Drum & Dance with his wife, choreographer and dancer Whitney McClusky. Their children performed in “Reunion,” as well as Fode’s many brothers based in different parts of the world. Other family members also took the stage, including the extremely flexible adolescent Adama Bangoura, who performed an acrobatic and contortion act with her father, Idrissa Bangoura. It was the kind of act that had people gasping in admiration as the father-daughter team executed stunning feats of flips and body manipulation.

Fode is the fulcrum of Duniya’s work, driving the rhythm with confidence, flash and an infectious smile. The drums weren’t so much an accompaniment to the dances but rather the main focus. Dancers followed the rhythms produced by Fode and other drummers. In some cases, Fode would lay out a specific rhythm for a soloist to dance to. Listening to the beat, Alseny “Seny” Bangoura, a master dancer and former principal dancer of Les Ballet Africains in Guinea, wowed the crowd with flips and hops rooted in the drum’s rhythm.

“Reunion” was part of Duniya’s “Fakoly” conference, which offered classes in drumming and African dance throughout the weekend. The show offered a kind of tour into Guinean cultural dances, with examples of ceremonial practices including rhythms played the night before a boys’ initiation ceremony or ones played at weddings.

The dancers and drummers wore bright costumes in primary colors and geometric shapes and donned such adornments as fringe and animal hair. They also on two occasions wore intricate masks, jumping around the stage with their knees and arms moving every which way in precise polyrhythms. It was awe-inspiring.

But the skill level of the female dancers at Duniya wasn’t as good as the master dancers, who engaged their bodies like a percussive instrument. Their movements were so exact and clear in every gesture. The Minneapolis-based troupe did carry the joyful energy of the evening, with its sense of fun and community.

While the Fakoly only had one performance, Duniya will perform later this year at the Cowles Center for the Fall Forward Festival during the last weekend in October.

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