Written by Rebecca Zuill
Published on www.royalgazette.com
The audience couldn’t help but clap along as Step Afrika! opened its third sold-out show at Earl Cameron Theatre.
Several people took advantage of the company’s invitation to join them on stage and learn the basics of “stepping”, an African tradition of using dance and music to communicate allegiance to a group.
Because they were executed with such speed, Step Afrika! dancers’ mesmerising sequences often seemed to defy gravity.
Ndlamu, a traditional dance of the Zulu people, showcased the origins of the dance form. Step Afrika! completed the piece in full costume with a minimal stage set, accompanied by an extraordinary drumming performance. It’s a dance form the group studied with the Soweto Dance Theatre in South Africa, with whom they have a decades-long relationship.
Wednesday’s audience was also treated to the Gumboot Dance, or Isicathulo, a style “originally conceived by miners in South Africa as an alternative to drumming”.
It was initially banned by authorities there, the miners used their rubber boots as “percussive instruments” to entertain, and also secretly communicate with each other.
It’s a more muted sound than the crisp “stamp” of the stepping tradition. The latter is produced by the heavy, heeled shoes worn by the dancers and the snapping sound of hand clapping.
Chicago was the night’s final performance, inspired by the Midwestern US city.
It showcased how stepping has evolved into contemporary performance art by finding rhythms in everyday situations.
As described in the concert’s programme notes, it is “a percussive symphony using body percussion and up to five complex polyrhythms performed simultaneously in order to narrate a percussive dance ‘story’”.
The high-energy piece concluded the concert on a high. It also left the audience — who were on their feet as the rendition drew to a close — exhilarated, joyful, and informed about this thrilling form of dance.