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DanceAfrica: Continuing the legacy of Charles ‘Baba Chuck’ Davis

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 11/13/2017, 5:44 p.m.
Every year, the DanceAfrica festival starts off each performance with a tribute and libation ceremony from the Council of Elders ...
Dr. Charles “Baba Chuck” Davis leading a former DanceAfrica performance. Richard W. Rodriguez

The Dallas Examiner

Every year, the DanceAfrica festival starts off each performance with a tribute and libation ceremony from the Council of Elders for those who have passed away, but this year was quite different. DanceAfrica founder Charles “Baba” Davis passed away in May and for the first time in 40 years, the festival is without him.

On Oct. 6, theatre-goers had the chance to see how well the festival would continue to live up to its hype under the leadership of the new artistic director Bridget L. Moore.

Dedicated to Davis in his absence, the show displayed a more somber tone while remaining upbeat and entertaining. Between each performance, Dallas Black Dance Theatre made sure to have colleagues and students who were close to Davis and short clips detailing the legacy of the dancer and his impact on the people who connected with him.

“Baba’s life and legacy is beginning because we are the branches of the Baba Chuck tree,” said Melissa Young, DBDT associate director, during a tear-filled reflection of the former director’s passing and impact on theatre. “Baba’s song may have ended, but his melody will linger forever.”

Although there was a sadness in the air, it didn’t suffocate the event. With the perfect blend of intense passion, vibrant colors and robust percussion, each dancer made sure DanceAfrica would still be one of the most energetic experiences viewers can ever have.

Performers from DBDT, DBDT: Encore and Booker T. Washington High School demonstrated great poise and pure athleticism across the stage. Their combination of singing and dancing brought together a long-lasting family vibe that remained even after the passing of their mentor.

The show maintained this sensation in the second half with an ode to “Baba” Davis followed by a rite of passage dance directed by Kamau Olu, Terrance Thomas, and Thomas of Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble.

The tribute was nothing short of thrilling as audience members would view a rare clip of Davis dancing and, shortly after, the dancers would mimic the movements. The dances were filled with such strong energy and left viewers a sweet feeling of happiness and pride for the performers’ acknowledgement of their teacher.

Following the ode, the Bandan Koro ensemble decorated the stage with heavy drum sounds and colorful masks of different African gods in a rite of passage presentation dedicated to the Malinke tribe women’s transition from adolescence to womanhood. The women dancers put on an astounding show that entertained and educated the audience about a unique tradition.

To viewers’ surprise, the showstopper was actually after the DanceAfrica event. In the middle of Moody Performance Hall, all of the dancers, choreographers, and even audience members joined together in a large circle and danced to the drums of Bandan Koro.

Positivity spread throughout the entire building as people took turns grooving to the African drums and sounds of cheers and chants. It was as if Davis was right there watching over everyone, ensuring the event was the furthest thing from a sob story but a joyous celebration of his life.

This year’s festival should be considered as one of the best showcases from DBDT with its phenomenal collection of rhythm and dance.