A D.C. international dance company’s latest creation, “The Migration,” based on the iconic and vibrant paintings of renowned black American artist Jacob Lawrence, is a soul-churning must-see.
The dance company — Step Afrika! — mixes spirit filled rhythmic movements of ancient African motions with traditional, intricate step routines from historical black Greek fraternities and sororities, coupled with jazz and body percussions in “The Migration,” which tells the story of hope and change through fast-paced dance routines.
The performance, which ran from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 in D.C. at the UDC Theater of the Arts, opened up with a group of tired slaves, picking cotton under a hot morning sun, just before one slave collapses from exhaustion.
The intensity of the beating of the narrator’s drums, signaling to the other slaves to help their “sister” to her feet in this step routine, was palpable throughout the entire audience.
Another remarkable scene was the slaves, who were known for finding nightly pleasures in instruments and dance, crying out in terror, “they took our drums away,” before they began to dance ferociously in unison, using their own bodies as percussions.
In the next scene, the same people once dressed in tattered clothes are seen dancing around in tailored suits and carrying briefcases as they find new musical interest and comfort in jazz music.
Essi Egbeto, a young professional from northern Maryland and direct descendant from Ghana, lauded the creativity of the show.
“As I watched this I felt so much pride and humility, to be able to recognize how rich the culture is, no matter what anybody says,” she said. “How great is it that we are able to express ourselves through our bodies? Just the strength that comes from that is beautiful.”
Linda Peppera, a young professional in northern Virginia and huge fan of the dance troupe, echoed the sentiment.
“I love seeing black bodies in motion and I could feel the emotions of the dancers come through with spirits of joy, hope and brokenness,” she said.
The inspirations from the portraits of Lawrence were seen in the backdrop during the entire performance, beautifully illustrating the story of the Great Migration, where multitudes of black Americans who, after World War I, began to abandon their homes in the rural South in search of greater economic opportunity and freedom in the North.
“We saw for the first time, Step Afrika’s exhibit inside of the new African American Museum and it is so nice to be part of history and so nice for this performance to really be celebrating the story of the great migration,” said C. Brian Williams, the dance company’s founder. “I hope you all will remember this piece and think about the millions of people who are migrating everyday, our own migration stories and remind ourselves that these people, like these people portrayed on stage, are all looking for a better life.”