Step Afrika! at the Bankhead – Review

Step Afrika! Photo: Jati Londsay
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Step Afrika! stepped into the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore, CA on February 23, bring joy and delight to young and old alike. A memorable celebration of Black History Month, this one night program is sure to be remembered for a long time by those fortunate enough to attend.

Step Afrika! is a compelling experience that blends the percussive stepping developed by historically African American fraternities and sororities in the early 20th century,  traditional West and Southern African dances, and an array of contemporary dance and art forms into a cohesive whole. Each performance integrates songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation for a unique and engrossing evening. 

Members of Step Afrika! performing ‘Drumfolk’ at The New Victory Theater, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

On February 23, the performers included Ariel Dykes, Kamala Hargrove, Akievia Hickman, Jabari Jones, Conrad Kelly II, Isaiah O’Connor, Valencia Odeyka Emonni Springer, Ericka Still, Pelham Warner, Jerel L. Williams, and Robert Warnsley. Jakari Sherman and Jackie Semla choreographed the evening’s pieces, and Niomi Collard’s lighting design added to the mood and exuberance of each dance. . 

 Most of the performers hail from New York and Florida, with a few from the Midwest. Sadly for them, the Bay Area offered no escape from winter’s cold. Happily for the attendees, the audience participation warmed us all. 

Members of Step Afrika! performing ‘Drumfolk’ at The New Victory Theater, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

Throughout, the performers took turns to involve the audience. We clapped along to the stepping–even those of us who are rhythmically challenged. No matter—it was the participation and support that mattered. 

The performance demonstrated how to use a friendly competition to build community. As with jazz, each dancer soloed—drumming and stomping, clapping and singing—as they tried to out-do the others. Yet the group’s common goal of working to create something together was always clear. I was left wanting to bring that attitude and enthusiasm into my everyday life. 

Zulu Jump, Photo:William Perrigen

While the performances are amazing, Step Afrika! also uses stepping to help students focus on teamwork, academic achievement, and cross-cultural understanding. Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Under his leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s cultural exports, touring more than 50 countries across the globe and Step Afrika! now ranks as one of the top ten African-American dance companies in the United States. 

The Company reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year through a 50-city tour of colleges and theatres and performs globally as Washington, DC’s one and only Cultural Ambassador. Step Afrika! has earned Mayor’s Arts Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education (2005), Innovation in the Arts (2008), and Excellence in an Artistic Discipline (2012); and performed at the White House for President Barack Obama and the First Lady.

Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! is featured prominently at the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African-American History & Culture with the world’s first stepping interactive. In 2017, Step Afrika! made its Off-Broadway debut with the critically-acclaimed production, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence. 

Thanks to The Bankhead for bringing this accomplished and esteemed company to the Tri-Valley. With good luck fans can return to see them in the future. Step Afrika! is not to be missed the next time it comes this way.

Photo by Sekou Luke

Check their tour schedule as they head to the East Coast.

Step Afrika! Tour


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