African Harvest is the sixth in a series of dance concerts over the past year presented by dancer and artistic director Arthur Hall. Previous shows were in Madison, Lewiston, and Bath and most recently in the highly successful concerts to capacity audiences at both the Rockport and the Camden Opera Houses. "Every show is different," Arthur Hall said, "if only because with live dancers and live musicians, you never know whatís going to happen. The Arts Commission talks about the fragile nature of dance in Maine, and we hope African Harvest will help correct that. Thereís a lot of talent here in Maine. In Ellsworth we are providing a showcase to help strengthen the artistic community while helping to feed the larger community."
The African Harvest food drive will collect canned and dried foods to be distributed by the Loaves and Fishes food pantry and the Emmaus Center of Ellsworth. Special containers will be set up at the Grand Auditorium the evening of the performance to receive donations from audience members and performers alike. "This is a celebration of the helping nature of our community spirit." wrote concert manager Christine Covert of Hancock. "Many community members and artists are volunteering their time to make this program possible. Letís make this a celebration of reaching out with helping hands."
With over thirty performing artists, African Harvest will feature Arthur Hall himself in his Dahomey Snake Dance, performed for the first time in a decade last month in the Belfast Dance Studioís Sankofa Festival. The joyful Patrice Janssen will dance the Liberian Fanga as she did last summer at the Farnsworth Art Museumís Community Festival. Fanga was brought to this country by the late Pearl Primus, the great African dance anthropologist. Ms. World, Ms. Universe, and Ms. America Cathy Butler-Corish of Gardner will perform the demanding dance Agong about the power in womenís hands. This will be the Maine premiere of Agong, and Ms. Butler-Corish is only the third or fourth woman to receive its choreography from Arthur Hall. Erma Colvin will perform the sacred dance Yanvallu, also from Dahomey and also involving a serpentine theme, Yanvallu was accurately described as early as 1619 in Haiti.
The eponymous Harvest Dance was brought to this country from Ghana in the early 1950s by Arthur Hallís mentor Saka Acquaye. Harvest is a dance for the whole company which depicts every stage of agriculture from planting seeds to reaping the new grain. Among several other dances, the company will also perform Sierra Leone, a dance of welcome from the country of the same name.
Special guest artists include Bangorís Robinson Ballet, who will perform a jazz piece, and Shaimar and Shatila (Patti Luchetti and Yosarian) performing an Oriental dance. Martin Steingesser will dance on stilts and perform two of his poems (not necessarily all at the same time) as well as a poem of the Nicaraguan martyr Leonel Rugama. Gray Parrot playing Kora and Christine Covert, both of the Jobo Kunda School for Traditional Culture in Hancock, will perform a praise song from the Gambia. The musicians are under the direction of Jeffrey Densmore of the Belfast Dance Studio and bluesman Jim Rorden of Monroe, a member of the Taildraggers, a Chicago-style blues band that also includes Trent and Lauren Sauder of Winterport and Rick Bishop of Waterville. Traditional West African rhythms will be anchored by Steve Ferraris of Vermont, who has been known to sit in with the late Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arcestra, and Stu Gillam of Hancock. Other drummers include Asia Sikkila, Arthur Floyd , Three Spirals, and Eric Horschak.
Perhaps the quintessential trouper of the company is Van Williams of the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble, who will once again travel to Maine from Philadelphia to perform for "Papa." Also performing will be Cheryl Mitchell, formerly of the Ram Island Dance Company and the Oxygen Debt Dance Ensemble, and Ricardo Guillermo, an architect at USM, with his powerful voice and exuberant dancing. Other members of the company include Dagney Ernest, Dean Buckley, Meg Barclay, Martine Toulouse, young Kat Gifford, Lisa Morgan, the flautist known only as Hawk, Bruce Williams, Shana Bloomstein, and Gail Gulick.
Creating an exciting, unified whole out of such diversity is something Arthur Hall does very well. "We will continue to take African Harvest to stages and festivals across Maine," he said. "Every concert is unique, and every concert is a new expression of how vital the performing arts are in our community." The International Dance Company, a Maine nonprofit arts organization now in its second year, is still looking for a studio to call home. "We have a Ďconceptual homeí at the Farnsworth Museum, and until we have a space of our own we will continue to travel from satellite to satellite for classes and rehearsals," Arthur Hall promised. The anchor for the concert at the Grand Auditorium has been the Thompson Community Center in Union. "We also rehearse in peopleís kitchens," he continued, "which is how I began forty years ago. The more things change the more they remain the same."
Tickets for African Harvest for the World are $10 per person, $25 for a family with children under 12, or $7 for students and senior citizens. Tickets are available at the Grand Auditorium or the usual Grand ticket outlets. Reservations are advisable; call 667-9500. For more information call concert manager Chris Covert, 422-9529.
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