- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

Two small groups with varying ties to Africa are appearing this week at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. They are part of the center’s modern dance series, renamed the Contemporary Dance Series, suggesting a difference in emphasis — perhaps less about intrinsic dance values and more about exploring the various forms dance takes at the beginning of the 21st century.

That would seem to be the thrust of the two visiting companies.

It would be hard to be more multicultural than the group appearing in the gender-bending “Saint Genet l’Africain” tonight and tomorrow night. Collaborators include Koffi Koko, who hails from West Africa; Brazil’s Ismael Ivo; and Ziya Azazi, a Turkish master of the whirling-dervish ritual. The Japanese director is Yoshi Oida, and the musicians onstage are led by Joao de Bruco from Brazil.

In this tense dance-theater piece — an African reimagining of Jean Genet’s best-known play, “The Maids” — the actors play two prison inmates acting out their fantasies in separate cells, overseen by a warden and accompanied by Mr. de Bruco’s percussive score.

“Koffi Koko lives in Paris and is one of France’s pre-eminent avant garde choreographers,” says Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s vice president for international programming, who chooses the center’s contemporary dance program. “He spent time in his younger years working with Peter Brook and is a much-sought-after dancer and choreographer.

“I have been trying to bring this piece for at least five years,” she adds. “It has been done all over the world to great acclaim, but not in this country. We will be the only place in the U.S. where ‘Saint Genet’ will be performed.”

Two days later, on Friday and Saturday, another unusual group appears: Compagnie TcheTche (the name means eagle), an all-female dance group of four women from Africa’s Cote d’Ivoire that was founded nine years ago by Beatrice Kombe. The company is performing Miss Kombe’s full-length “Dimi,” which translates as “pain.”

With movements that skirt the edge of danger and then suddenly turn comforting and enfolding, the dancers plunge deep into the plight and power struggles that women are experiencing in Africa.

Miss Adams is equally enthusiastic about this choice. She says of Miss Kombe, “In 10 years’ time, she has risen to be one of Africa’s leading choreographers. The work ‘Dimi’ is focused on women’s issues. I think it’s important for us to hear her voice on this subject.”

WHAT: Koffi Koko and Ismael Ivo in “Saint Genet l’Africain”

WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

WHAT: Compagnie TcheTche

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

TICKETS: $38

PHONE: 202/467-4600


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