The cold spring air blew past my face as I strode over to the Morse-Stiles Crescent Theater. A lone Salsa Fresca wrapper blew past me in the opposite direction. “Go back,” it seemed to say. “The breeze is too crisp. The night is too barren.” I ignored the burrito wrapper and charged forward, pounding past the establishment formerly known as G-Heav, past Lou Lou, past J. Crew. I did not know what to expect. I had made the mistake of never attending a Dzana show. I last attended a Yale performance in the spring of 2015, and I was a younger man in those days. I entered the theater, found a seat and waited for the show to begin.
The theater was dark as the night. The empty stage seemed cavernous, but then a thumping beat began. The space slowly came to life as the lights gently grew brighter and brighter and the performers slunk onto the stage. The dancers created a V-like formation, drawing the eye to the center point of the stage, and then burst into motion, moving in all directions at once. Their legs and hands filled the vertical space in an intricate series of steps and claps as the women repeatedly dropped low to the ground only to pop back into the air moments later. The routine built in energy as each row of dancers gradually joined in, until the entire troupe was moving as one to the beat of the music. As quickly as the explosive energy of the dance had built, the stage went dark and the performers exited to the wings.
A single spotlight shone down on Ian Irungu ’19, the emcee of the evening. Ian riled up the audience and encouraged clapping and shouting as he contextualized the night’s performance, providing background on the songs heard throughout the evening. A series of high-energy performances commenced as the performers clapped, stomped and swayed through a series of songs. Costume changes highlighted key moves of the dances, accentuating the performers’ crisp motions. After the large opening number, featuring the entire cast of Dzana, a succession of playful and powerful all-female dances continued until the dancers each raised a hand on the final beat of the Nigerian song “Girls Night Out,” as if preventing the audience from leaning off the edge of their seats any farther.
In the next number, two dancers, Mallet Njonkem ’18 and Sarah Heard ’18, emerged from the shadows of opposite sides of the theater and met at the center of the stage. This dance, more intimate than any previous performance, marked a deliberate change of pace for the show. Njonkem and Heard circled each other across the stage until they were united in a climactic series of complicated steps at the center. Their sultry moment quickly ended as the lights faded and the rest of Dzana joined them onstage for the final dance before intermission.
The house lights went up and a small group of dancers, led by Alex Leone ’18 and Téa Beer ’17, entered the stage. They called the audience to their feet and walked them through the first four moves to the next dance. Other dances joined the stage and cheered, calling out particular audience members for exceptional effort or adeptness at mastering the moves. I participated and my hips burned with the flames of a sedentary lifestyle.
The second half of the show began, and was a notable departure in tone from the first half of the performance. Their moves were more confident and more aggressive. Irungu recommended the audience add the final songs to their “really good time” (read: sex) playlists on Spotify, and indeed the choreography of this dance communicated a sense of confident, powerful sexuality.
Dzana’s Afrogroove show is fun, exciting, powerful and sexy. Their appeal comes from their effervescence and mastery of difficult footwork. The dancers make the grinding hip thrusts and complex dance moves seem playful and effortless, but the audience attempts at intermission demonstrate that this is clearly not the case. For anyone looking to warm up before the less than balmy temperatures of Spring Fling, Afrogroove is the only place to be at 8 p.m. tonight.