Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Le Ballet National du Senegal

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My love of African dance began when I saw this company ten years ago at the Auditorium Theatre. Then it was nearly 30 years old: Senegal's official music and dance troupe was founded by poet and president Leopold Senghor in 1960, the year the country achieved independence, and it has a born-again nationalistic fervor. Intended to preserve traditional forms, it's colorful and loud, as chock-full of feats and magical images as a circus. The costumes are works of art in themselves, covered with pom-poms, bells, fringe, shells, and grasslike strands. The music is a symphony of percussion supplemented by the lyrical kora, a stringed instrument made from a large gourd. But the real reason to see Le Ballet National du Senegal is the dancing. The performance being presented here is called Pangols, a Wolof word that describes the spiritual nature of all beings and things, and these ecstatic dances do capture the urge to merge. Whether we're watching men repeatedly jump into the splits or women flinging their heads back and forth like dust mops, the virtuosic fleetness and violence of the dancers' movements serve one purpose: a rapturous state of communion. Though in some sense Le Ballet National du Senegal and Clara Andermatt's A Story of Doubt (see other Dance Critic's Choice) both derive from West African culture, they couldn't be more different: the Senegalese company's performance is as colorful and life affirming as Andermatt's is grim and dire. Sunday at 3 in Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; $17-$34. Call 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114 for tickets and information. --Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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