Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honoring Mama Kariamu

photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

How often does a concert end on a note of such unbridled joy that audience members head out into the night singing? Kariamu & Company: Traditions’ concerts at Temple University celebrating 40 years of Umfundalai technique ended in just this way, with a shared ecstasy and sense of affirmation more reminiscent of a community gathering than a concert in a proscenium theater.

Dr. Kariamu Welsh (Mama Kariamu), head of the Dance Department at Temple, makes dances, but I experienced them in this concert more as vessels into which her dancers pour every drop of their passion and personal power. They address tragedies of diaspora and challenges of urban life with humor, urgency, unity and dignity.

Works from across the years were interspersed with moving testimonies by students who became teachers themselves. C. Kemal Nance, Kariamu’s student from the time he was 8 years old, is today a doctoral candidate and a powerhouse mover. Each of the older dancers who demonstrated their moves was a knockout, having applied her teaching over the long haul.

Honoring the life’s work of those who develop techniques, foster the development of dancers, and provide them with fulfilling performing opportunities doesn’t happen nearly enough. Mama Kariamu, whose Umfundalai technique amalgamates aspects of dance languages from all over Africa, richly deserves this tribute.