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Kùlú Mèlé’s two-weeks in Guinea, West Africa, result in premiere of African-ballet and documentary film, May 8 at Freedom Theatre
Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble will perform the U. S. premiere of Mali Sadjo: The Legend of the Hippopotamus, a theatrical ballet from Guinea, on Friday, May 8, at 8:00 p.m. as part of its 40th Anniversary Concert at New Freedom Theater, 1346 N. Broad Street. The premiere of a documentary film on Kùlú Mèlé’s recent residency in Guinea, providing insight into the creative process for learning this ballet, will be shown in conjunction with the performance. Tickets for Mali Sadjo are $25 and may be purchased at www.kulumele.org.
In December 2008, fourteen members of the Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble traveled from Philadelphia to Conakry, Guinea, West Africa for an intensive, two-week residency with internationally-recognized artists M’Bemba Bangoura, Mariama Touré, and Yamoussa Soumah, as well as dancers from the Les Ballets Africains and Les Merveilles D’Guinea.
Master classes in the dance and drumming styles of Guinea were followed with rehearsals in which the company learned choreography for the first portion of Mali Sadjo: The Legend of the Hippopotamus.
(Photo: Kùlú Mèlé’s artistic director Dorothy Wilkie and company member Ama Schley select fabric for costumes from a wide array of colorful patterns at the market in Conakry, Guinea)
A tale from Mande, West Africa, of a young girl who falls in love with a magical hippo, Mali Sadjo shows how relationships between human beings are often reflected in nature, and how the environment can be cultivated to meet their needs.
Upon returning from Conakry, Guinea, Dorothy Wilkie, Kùlú Mèlé’s artistic director stated, “Our mission was accomplished. The play has so much emotion, dance and drama. The songs and music are so beautiful. We had some highs and lows in Guinea, but for the most part it was fantastic!”
According to film producer Pamela A. Hooks, a high was “being surrounded by the beautiful people and culture of Guinea; a low, the lack of human services that hindered a basic quality of life.”
(Photo: On day three of rehearsals for Mali Sadjo: The Legend of the Hippopotamus, Kùlú Mèlé’s Ama Schley works with master choreographer Yamoussa Soumah, a former member of Les Ballets Africains who now directs his own company in Guinea.)
A day for Kùlú Mèlé in Conakry was filled with approximately eight hours of training and rehearsals in the inescapable heat.
When they were done in the studio some dancers, including James Wilkie and Edward Smallwood, would take to the streets where they infused their native hip-hop with traditional African dance while passersby gathered to watch.
The company of dancers and drummers performed for U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Raspolic and guests in her home; were honored guests at the Dundunba Festival, a celebration of dance; shopped the markets in search of colorful fabrics for costumes and handmade drums and balafons to accompany performances in the U. S.; and along with filmmakers Gabriel Bienczycki and Pamela A. Hooks visited Kindia where the sites included huge waterfalls and sunset over Mount Gangan.
In addition, they met with elders and griots (historians) from whom they learned about the local cooking, language, costume design, drumming, songs, and history.
Kùlú Mèlé’s time in Conakry, Guinea (December 1-16, 2008) was chronicled online at blog.kulumele.org.
The site will be updated as the creative process for Mali Sadjo continues and concludes with the premiere screening of a longer, thirty-minute documentary film of the trip and residency, scheduled for June 16, 2009 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
This screening will be accompanied by a panel featuring Kùlú Mèlé company members, the filmmakers, and Dr. Debora Kodish, director of the Philadelphia Folklore Project.
This project has been funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Dance Advance with additional support from the Marketing Innovation Program.
Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble is the longest-lived African dance company in Philadelphia and is dedicated to serving the community by presenting and preserving the culture, dance and music of the African diaspora.
Since its creation four decades ago, it has established a national reputation as a unique and dynamic performing arts ensemble. Kùlú Mèlé has built a repertoire that is an exciting blend of West African ancestral tradition and African American creativity. Performances include the music and dance of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, and the United States.
A force behind a vital African cultural renaissance in Philadelphia, it teaches and performs both new and traditional works. Kùlú Mèlé offers high quality and authentic workshops, performances, residencies, apprenticeships, and study tours that seek to reclaim traditional cultural practices.