COBA’s talented, dedicated dancers and musicians thundered into the staid confines of Brock University last night and provided one of the most vivid cultural experiences of the year.
The wide-ranging program, reflecting the artistry and imagination of its co-founders (Eddison B. Lindsay and Charmaine Headley), was at times raw, poignant and physical; its compelling glue was story: told through flying bodies, underscored and punctuated by traditional drums and items from the “kitchen,” narrated or coloured by the ever-engaging Chantuelles.
The first-half highlight was easily Yoruba Suite, not only because the musicians were present, but that this homage to tradition was so deeply felt by all. With imagery of blood and land waving through the air, Lindsay deftly moved within his flock, waking the dead, exorcising lost souls, and baptizing the living even as the youngest member of his band (so good to see a child confidently absorbing and participating in his heritage) shook the death rattle with vigour. It was here that the women shone, moving as one or solo, using their magnificent physiques to wash the stage with energy and unconditional commitment. It was so refreshing to see a troupe that has not fallen under the anorexic sway of magazine covers or bodysuit ads.
Primal Fête, which opened the program, was a stunning tour de force for Lindsay as his incredible body extensions, unerring balance, and subtle characterization captivated our interest as much as his partners. However, in an orangey Dance of Three Veils, the women were hard pressed to match his movement and style—particularly his arms as they moved through the air with shimmering weight. (If only more conductors had this skill!)
After intermission, the three remaining offerings were an artistic sandwich with Musique Mélange as its meat. Left on their own, the musicians and singers drew the crowd into the act easily, enticing us to join the fray but clapping the less usual back-beat—the room shook with fun. The singers were at their best in unison or declaiming solos, the harmonies suffered from slight pitch vagaries, but passion rang steadily through their voices.
Emerging from an intriguing cluster of limbs, Headley, Lindsay and Julia Morris worked their way through the homophonic lines of the “Dead Can Dance” score with poise and unity of attitude. Their continuously flowing body smocks were a perfect match to the soundscape. The movements, like the eastern sounds that inspired them, were nearly all as one, although that approach demands perfect ensemble, which, except for Lindsay’s incredible head snaps, was very nearly accomplished.
The final work, Mandiani/Doun Doun Ba, was exquisite. Choreographer Sis Hibbert, added another dimension to the evening, especially in making full use of every inch of the performance space. The heady, relentless drive of the music sent the bird-like dancers (imaginatively decked out in black-check costumes, which set off their feathers and headdresses beautifully) flying, pecking and happily interacting with themselves, their colleagues and the mesmerized crowd. Finally, the bare-torsoed leader took stage and whipped his charges into a frenzy that had us cheering in our seats, eager for more. JWR