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Theatre Review - 'The Dance of Katchikali'

May 9, 2008, 7:31 AM | Article By: By Momodou Justice Darboe & Njie Baldeh

Last weekend, theatre-goers converged at the Alliance Franco Gambienne amphitheatre to see the latest from the Ebunjan Theatre Troupe. The presentation was 'The Dance of Katchikali', a dance -drama focusing on the genesis and legend of Bakau's sacred crocodile pool.

According to a griot narrator, the Divine power had created the sacred pool in the midst of a small forest and placed there different spirits. The spirits represent all aspects of human aspiration and endeavour: wealth, success, fertility, good health, peace. The spirits take the form of crocodiles during the day and spirits at night. Higher than all the spirits, however, and shielding superior control over them, is the Great Spirit of the pool, named Katchikali. Everything seemed satisfactory and harmonious until the Divine power created humans, man and woman.

At that point in creation, harmony became destroyed and with it the beautiful environment that flourished, as humans wreaked havoc on their surroundings, chopping trees wantonly and generally creating a negative impact on the ecosystem. The spirits revenged by evicting humans from the forest, and Katchikali subsequently installs the Bojang family as custodians of the pool following a satisfactory test of the family's loyalty, kindness, selflessness, and caring nature. The Bojangs care for the pool to this very day and assist those who visit the spirits with their various wishes, prayers and supplications.

The story is narrated with the support of the medium of traditional music and dance, with accompaniment of kora and drums. The effect ranged from quite strong to absolutely stunning. Much of this had to do with the deft and sprightly performance of the dancers. Eddie Mends Cole was in top form again as choreographer and dancer both: his imagination, creativity and effervescence never seem to wane. His magic was first revealed in the Troupe's production of 'The Magic Necklace', and re-affirmed in the Troupe's recent showing of 'Hand of Fate?' Professional koraist, Alhagie Mbye, led, accompanied, interspersed sounds with his kora adroitly between and through narrations, dances, songs, episodes, and still stayed as cool as a cucumber. Well, that's a professional for you.

Esther Emeh, the great spirit of Katchikali, was as good as any spirit: how lightly she treaded, looking immaculate, noble, exalted, and emitting all the mystique she could muster. Of course the drama would not have been the same without the impactful narrating of Felix Downes-Thomas who played the part of the griot. His stage abililities were shown in Gogol's 'The Government Inspector' as the shrewd Village Postmaster who unravelled the trickster Khlestakof, and as the concerned father in 'Hand of Fate'  by Janet Badjan-Young. Other experienced actors included Ibrahim Ceesay who also featured in the Troupe's performance of 'The Government Inspector' as well as in the Classic, 'Man for All Seasons'. Marcel Thomasi and Ousman Jarju delivered the Prologue with great artistic flourish.

Some of the audience afterwards commented about the length of the performance which was judged and pronounced 'too short', and ending where previous plays of the Troupe broke for intermission. Comparatively short though it was, the show was yet enjoyable. What helped it gain ground and enthusiastic reception must have been in the area of stage effects, in particular sound effects, lighting, physical effects of smoke, trees, flowing river, and certainly its colorful and well-designed costumes.

The play's brilliant director, Janet Badjan- Young, received a most deserved ovation at the end.

An artistic masterpiece! Congratulations Ebunjan Troupe!