Sarah's Spotlight: University Dance Minor, Guest Artists Marilyn and Sekou Sylla
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 22:10
“Wongai!” or “Let’s go!” was the bright and uplifting theme of each rehearsal led by guest artists Marilyn and Sekou Sylla during their African drum and dance residency last week. The Syllas worked with both the Dance Minor and the Department of Music to teach master classes based on movement and rhythm.
In addition, the Syllas constructed a piece for 16 dancers and three percussionists in just six rehearsals—a real feat, especially because the piece is roughly 10 minutes long. The piece is about the harvest, and it will be performed in this fall’s Percussion Ensemble concert and in the dance minor faculty concert in March.
African dance is not a course offered at the university, and of the group of dancers selected to work with the Syllas, only a few had previous exposure to the style. I am one of the dancers in this collaborative piece without formal African dance training, but this is not my first time working with Marilyn and Sekou.
Seven dance minor students and one dance faculty member, Kimberly Schroeder, attended the American Collegiate Dance Festival Association’s regional conference last spring. The dancers represented the university for the first time at ACDFA New England at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I had the opportunity to attend ACDFA and truly immerse myself in dance for four days. I took workshops in a variety of styles, attended professional and collegiate performances and bonded with my fellow dance minors on a whole new level
Marilyn and Sekou taught my two favorite workshops at ACDFA: African dance and drumming for dancers. The Syllas teach through the Five College Dance Department and are based out of Smith College. Their African dance class at the festival was highly energized and fast paced, and it was so much fun. I had never taken a class like that before in my life.
When I looked at the workshop schedule for the following day and saw that drumming for dancers (no experience necessary) was an option, I urged my fellow dancers to take it with me. Six of us attended, and to this day we still talk about what a great experience it was. In fact, three of us who attended ACDFA are in the piece constructed during the residency, and we reminisced about our first exposure to African drum and dance during each rehearsal.
Dancing with Marilyn while Sekou plays the drums is like attending a rocking party with your closest friends. Yes, Marilyn and Sekou are professionals. They provide you with proper technique and correct you when you’re wrong, but they also emphasize the joy of dancing and music. Based off of my experiences with African dance, music and movement go hand in hand. The dancers and musicians function as one unified ensemble, and they rely on each other.
Our percussionists actually start our piece not as drummers but as actors and dancers—something they probably weren’t expecting when they signed up to work on the piece. On the other hand, all of the dancers had the opportunity to try our hands at different instruments during our final rehearsal Saturday morning.
Throughout the entire process, there was a great feeling of sharing and teamwork. If one dancer locked in on a phrase, she would help her neighbor. If a dancer struggled to bang out a rhythm on the drums, a musician would show her how. If a drummer didn’t quite understand his character, his partner explained the story. I’m excited to perform this work twice for two different audiences in two different venues, and I think that emphasizes the value of collaboration between art forms
The Percussion Ensemble concert is Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. in Loudis Recital Hall. The dance minor faculty concert is on March 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Mitchell Hall.