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Urban Bush Women.

People of African descent live all over the world today. Seeking to study the spiritual traditions of this African diaspora--those of Africa itself, the Caribbean, and the United States--members of Urban Bush Women undertook a study journey to Jamaica two years ago. Under the guidance of musician and collaborator Junior "Gabu" Wedderburn, they were inspired by the Rastafarian movement, which combines political protest and resistance with Old Testament teachings, and by the Nyabinghi ceremony, a rite that traditionally lasts anywhere from three to twenty-one days.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Nyabinghi Dreamtime lasts only half an evening; it appears to have been brutally edited since its first incarnation as a work in progress at the Kitchen a year ago. Wearing costumes trimmed in the traditional colors of African liberation (red, black, green, and gold) and African mudcloth by Stefani Mar, the performers wave palm-frond fans and focus their attention on the redemption of a "lost sistren." Treva Offutt's solo to "Fly Away Home" is a carefully balanced blend of sustained, lyrical movement and jerky, jumpy phrases. Valerie "Otusina" Winborne leads the ensemble with subtlety and strength, stirring the other dancers into a seemingly spontaneous stampede or alternately fading quietly into the background as they all become contemplative.

The musicians, including Zollar in command of a large drum, join the dancers: ten bodies and twenty legs moving in unity as a single organism. Sometimes somber, sometimes joyous, they flail, roll, and jump, alternating focus from the representational repression of Babylon to the liberation of Zion. It's easy to feel lost or excluded in this convergence of cultural icons. Program notes, in the form of a glossary, help. The post-performance discussion was even better.

Circling with lighted candles and chanting "fire, fire, burn," the dancers eventually fade into the background rather than exit the stage, contributing to the illusion that the ceremony will, indeed, continue for another week. The work successfully maintains a feeling of spontaneity while tailoring an indigenous participatory event to the limitations of a spectator audience.

On a lighter note, A Dance ... Batty Moves ("batty" is Jamaican slang for buttocks) opened the second half of the program. Performed by Welsh-born Beverley Prentice-Ryan (who is appropriately well-endowed), the solo is sensuous and sinewy, with emphasis equally distributed between the "batty," the jazz rhythms, and changes in direction and level. The dance doesn't go where you expect it to, and is wonderfully quirky.

Excerpts from two evening-length works completed the troupe's first appearance at the Joyce, which marked Urban Bush Women's tenth anniversary. In "Girlfriends," from Anarchy, Wild Women, and Dinah (1986), a quartet of lingerie-clad dancers laugh at one woman's seductive costume, first silently, and then in great guffaws. "Shelter," from Heat (1988), with its socially and ecologically conscious texts by Hattie Gossett and Laurie Carlos, was decidedly more pointed here than as performed by the Alvin Ailey company in its New York season last winter.
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Title Annotation:Joyce Theater, New York, New York
Author:Lewis, Julinda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Words:485
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