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'Sankofa': Reflections of the African Diaspora on the Schaeffer stage

Culminating the college’s Jan. 17 observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students used music, dance, poetry and prose to survey the vast landscape of the African Diaspora, and their own diverse backgrounds, in an evening performance in Schaeffer Theatre.

Titled Sankofa, a term from Ghana’s Akan language referring to the idea of going back for what you have forgotten, the show emphasized the importance of remembering the past in order to appreciate the present and improve the future.

Reflecting the concept “Get Up, Stand Up: The Fierce Urgency of Now” — the theme for this year’s MLK Day programming at Bates — the performers captivated audience members with their talent, pride and intensity. Fellow students, faculty and townspeople including members of the local Somali community filled the theater. The production, the first of its kind, drew hoots and hollers, laughter and tears from the audience.

The production featured emotional readings, striking dance and uplifting music, displaying the talents of students from myriad backgrounds and disciplines. Directed by Linda Kugblenu ’13 of New York City and produced by Cynthia Alexandre-Brutus of Brooklyn, N.Y., the production was as much a lesson in history and culture as entertainment.

In one piece, actresses Omosede Eholor of New York City and Brittney Davis of Chicago, both first-years, performed Alexandre-Brutus’ adaption of Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” Rendered as a dialogue, the scene juxtaposed the inequalities facing black women in the 18th and 19th centuries with the modern context, a contrast heightened by stage lighting and costumes.

In “Four Blast From the Past,” four performers portrayed liberation movement leaders from across Africa. Raina Jacques ’13 portrayed Yaa AsanteWaa, queen mother of the Asante confederacy. She vehemently delivered the speech that stirred the men of the community to fight against British colonial domination and proclaimed that she would call upon her fellow women to get their king back.

Bisola Folarin ’14 presented Wangari Maathai, the contemporary Kenyan environmental and political activist, proclaiming the threats to the forests by her own government.

The Rev. King was honored as Jourdan Fanning ’13 performed an excerpt from his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech, expressing a fierce exigency of the need to remember the injustices the civil rights movement has fought to surmount.

The program also included dance in a variety of genres, from traditional Ghanian dance to a sampler of Caribbean styles to step dance performed by the college’s Dynasty team. Five students took part in a poetry slam; a piece honored the local Somali community with the piece “I Am a Somali”; and Bates’ own Gospelaires, a relatively recent addition to the college’s robust singing scene, offered the spiritual “Oh Freedom is Coming.” And an intermission gave the audience a chance to share their impressions.

The show stimulated the emotions with powerful performances that highlighted the diversity of Bates students. The standing ovation that closed the show expressed both admiration for the troupe and an entreaty for an encore next year.

– Kelly Cox ’11



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