Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Les Ballets Africains



I have a Jamaican friend who can't understand why Chicagoans paint their houses white, gray, or beige. If he had a house, he says, he'd paint it violet or sky blue. I think Guinea must be filled with people like my friend: when its national dance company, Les Ballets Africains, appeared here in the fall of 1991 at the Auditorium Theatre, I called it an avalanche of color. Now the troupe returns, for one night only, with a show they've been working on for the last two years. Heritage is a narrative dance set in the 12th century and based on the legend of a famous griot, a court member and "living library." Like the heroes of many tales, he follows a princess to the home of a powerful rival king, where he braves an underworld--the king's fetish cave--to discover the secret of his power. As it turns out, the secret is a musical instrument: the balaphone, a precursor of the xylophone. At this point all threats of war cease. What the griot, Bala Fassake, really wants is to make music on that instrument. And he does. Later, traveling the country, he picks up a sidekick who also becomes a master musician (though he makes an awful start, playing the drums so badly that the dancers and other musicians lose their rhythm and flee in disgust). The message, made explicit in the group's press materials, is this: respect your elders, nurture the young, have compassion for the less fortunate, and appreciate beauty. (Are you listening, Newt?) It goes without saying that the 35 members of this troupe are fabulous performers: they've been handpicked to represent their country from a culture that genuinely prizes music and dance. Thursday, February 22, at 8 at the New Regal Theater, 1645 E. 79th; $24.50. Call 559-1212 for tickets, 721-9230 for information. (School performances, same day, at 10 AM and noon; $6. Call 721-9230, ext. 110, for information.) --Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Robin.

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