In 2018, the Celebrity Series brought Sankofa Danzafro to the New England Conservatory’s intimate Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre, where, in “The City of Others,” the Colombian company asked what it means to be African in a Hispanic country. This weekend, Sankofa Danzafro performed in the more spacious Boch Center Shubert Theatre, and the hour-long piece, “Accommodating Lie,” sought to “challenge falsehoods about Black bodies and the meaning of being of African descent.” On Saturday, the falsehoods didn’t always come into focus, but the dancing was unexceptionable and spoke for itself.
Artistic director Rafael Palacios founded Sankofa Danzafro in Medellín in 1997. Sankofa is a word from the Akan people of Ghana; its three syllables mean “return,” “go,” and “look, seek, and take.” The company translates this into Spanish as “volver a la raíz,” or “return to the root.” Colombia has the second-largest population of African descent in Latin America; for Palacios and his dancers, the goal is to retrieve and hold onto their African heritage.
Álvaro Tobón’s set for “Accommodating Lie” is an upstage curtain of straw that represents the straw skirts once worn by enslaved Afro-Colombians. Entering from opposite ends of the stage and emerging through the curtain, William Camilo Perlaza Micolta and Sandra Vanesa Murillo Mosquera take hands, make circles with their upper bodies, thrust their arms out toward us, kneel with their hands behind them, rise and face each other. Finally they bust loose, every body part liberated. When the music winds down, they join hands again and exit through the curtain.
That’s the first in a series of episodes set to flute, marimba, drums, and vocals from Juan José Luna Coha, Feliciano Blandón, and Kevin Leandro Cortés Garcia. Her wrists bound, Yndira Perea Cuesta engages in a tug of war with two dancers who restrain her on long ropes. After breaking free, she dances out her escape, offhand one moment, writhing, stabbing, and stomping the next.
Yeison Moreno Córdoba, in a straw skirt and looking like a great bird, shakes his shoulders as if fighting off demons. In one virtuoso move, he grabs his outstretched right foot with his hand and turns in a circle. After racing round the stage and flailing wildly, he falls to the ground. A man in red, Luis Armando Viveros Mosquera, picks him up, lays him gently back down, and begins a violent dance, all windmilling arms, swiveling hips, and jackhammer feet, whereupon Moreno Córdoba is resurrected.
The quintet who follow stand on sullen display; the voiceover is in Spanish, narrating an auction of enslaved people like the one Rafael Xavier brought to the ICA last November. They erupt into agitated dance, as if to let us know who they really are, before going back to being inspected. In the next episode, Maryeris Mosquera Batista is irritated by her straw skirt; after an epic battle that includes intricate footwork and backbending, she drops it from her body, then walks back to the curtain, dragging the skirt with her toe while wagging a finger. María Elena Murillo Palacios has a graceful, slower solo in which she tries to extricate the strands of her skirt from the strands of the curtain.
“Accommodating Lie” ends with all eight dancers on stage in explosive choreography, celebrating their freedom and their identity, the rhythms of their bodies as complex as the rhythms of the music. They stop only when the voiceover breaks in and everyone has to line up again. The price seems to be going up; there’s a successful bid and they stare at us as the lights go out.
Performance piece choreographed and directed by Rafael Palacios. Performed by Sankofa Danzafro. Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. At: Boch Center Shubert Theatre, Saturday Feb. 26. www.celebrityseries.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.