Les Ballets Africains

At the Colonial through February 14

A few lithe young women of the Ballets Africains troupe appeared semi-nude on the Colonial stage two nights ago. The audience gasped a little, and one dance even made something humorous of the situation, but it was apparent that women, dressed or undressed, play only a peripheral role in this show. Les Ballets Africains is primarily a man's affair, an exhibition of superbly masculine dances and rhythms. Virtuoso leaps, cartwheels, and spins follow in profusion, until the proceedings resemble some sort of idealized athletic event. Such is the spontaneity of the dancers that repetitions of these vigorous movements always seems fresh, newly conceived creations.

The accompaniment for the dances is drums--drumming in fact, pervades the whole evening, from the shattering "Appel du Tam-Tam" played before the curtain rises, to the helter-skelter explosion of high spirits in the final. There must be at least two hours of drumming in this show, and yet there is not a single moment of rhythmic ennui. Clearly, the producers have gone to considerable lengths to find remarkable artists, drummers whose command of technique suggests the most accomplished Western percussionists.

The most vital parts of the program are the big concerted numbers, where brilliant lighting and costumes combine with the drumming and dancing to produce dazzling splashes of color. The other sections naturally act as relief; these generally take the form of lyrical African love songs, of calypso duets with guitars, hardly distinguishable from their Caribbean counterparts. The most interesting of these quiet interludes involves an African lute of liquid sound and astonishing facility called a "cora." The two cora soloists are undoubtedly virtuosos, and they draw from their instruments a phenomenal number of notes during their brief performances.

Les Ballets Africains is a very professional show; it moves at great speed, and its participants are obviously old troupers. Nevertheless the dancers radiate spontaneity, and they will provide most anybody with a very good time.