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COBA - School
COBA's company in 'Orisha Suite'
February 20-22 2009 Fleck Dance Theatre Reviewed by Margarita Osipian
Photo of BaKari E. Lindsay, co-founder of COBA, the Collective of Black Artists

I'm endlessly fascinated by contemporary dance's beautiful manifestations. I grew up going to classical dance performances, mainly ballets, and the theatre. So I jumped at the chance to attend Banta, a presentation of the Collective of Black Artists (COBA). Rooted in the legacy and storytelling of African history, COBA's creations address social themes through a unique aesthetic lens. The latest, Banta, was actually a series of four performances broken up with a short break between each piece. I tried not to read the performance descriptions in the show's catalogue because I wanted to see if I could pull the narrative from the dancers on the stage. There's something humbling, especially for a writer, to witness a story without words. Banta's performances successfully addressed the idea of narrative and momentum through time, using music, rhythm, and bodies. But should a marker of success be based upon whether the story that I interpreted from the dancers was the same as the story that they were attempting to tell? In the end, it's not relevant — because the mark of a good storyteller is the enjoyment inherent in the process of telling and listening.

BaKari E. Lindsay's Maa Keeba is a tribute to the legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba, who collapsed as she was leaving the stage after one of her last performances in Italy. Opening with a group of dancers in black outfits silhouetted against a coloured backdrop, this was my favourite piece of the night. The dancers worked in beautiful unison, creating a community of dancers that told the same story. The simplicity of their costumes allowed the movements of their bodies to take centre stage. Impressive transitions shifted the story seamlessly from one part to the next, moving from an individual dancer to the reemergence of the group. One of the most breathtaking scenes was at the end of this performance when the dancer playing Makeba falls on the stage, gasping for air. Bathed in a ray of light shining across the stage, her bright orange skirt illuminated, only the sounds of her struggling for breath filling the room. This spectacular image is still deeply engraved in my mind.

The two middle performances, Charmaine Headley's Passage and Lindsay's Inner Voice, were slower in their execution. They featured subtler storytelling and didn.t capture my attention the same way Maa Keeba had. They were slightly repetitive and far more aestheticized. The focus on the body and its subtle movements stood out in these pieces. Inner Voice, comprised of a group of female dancers circling around one male dancer, was unique because the dancers were disjointed from one another in their movements and choreography.

The final performance, a remount of Sis Robin Hibbert's spirited Doun Doun Dance, woke up the audience with high energy hand drumming and singing. The colourful costumes illuminated the darkness evoked in the previous performances. I could see the rhythms and sounds moving along the stage as the drummers communicated through music to one another. A spectacular end to an array of storytelling through dance.

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