On Saturday, November 16, Wenjack Theatre was packed to near-capacity as the audience prepared for the long awaited Afrobana 2013, or, as it was lovingly dubbed, Afribbean Sensation. Many came from far and wide, hoping to have a cultural experience unlike any other. There was a lot of hype surrounding Afrobana this year and I have to say I was rather disappointed. It wasn’t off to the best start when the show started considerably later than expected, but that was just the first of an evening of mishaps.
The problem with a cultural show comprised of different acts is that it is rather difficult to create a feel of cohesion between the performances. The Afrobana co-coordinators attempted to remedy this with the rather ingenious idea of creating a narrative connecting all the pieces together. The two MCs acted out the roles of a Nigerian man and a Jamaican woman who met at Trent University. They proceeded to get married and have a child who often struggled with her cultural identity.
At the end of the night, she realized that she is not one thing, but rather an amalgamation of two different cultures which strongly define her. She eventually comes to this realization with the help of throwback stories of her parents’ love affair. The general moral is that we need to look beyond our differences and find strength in unity.
All in all, a lovely concept with a beautiful message, but it fell a sad victim to poor execution. Poor sound moderation made it nearly impossible to hear most of dialogue, and when it could be understood, the performance came off as quite amateur.
Little attention was paid to props and stage management, and lighting often fluctuated between harsh and dim.
All of this combined to give the feel of an elementary school play as opposed to the high tier show we had been led to expect. It also struck me as odd that the food provided for the VIP experience included pizza and other North American foods. I expected a more cultural collection of foods than that.
“Considering the advertising and hype around Afrobana as well as the ticket prices, I expected a bit more than I got. I appreciate their concept for this year, but the delivery wasn’t as great as it could have been. The transition from act to act was a bit disappointing. I will say that from what I saw, the execs put a lot of effort into preparation for the show, but were quite unlucky for the night. All in all, the acts did well under the watchful eye of a full house which couldn’t have been easy,” said one of the audience members, Juliana.
Her observations do seem to ring true as far as I am concerned. A lot of work and effort went into publicizing Afrobana this year and the turn-out was definitely larger than usual. However, there was a significant rise in pricing with some tickets selling for as much as $20. I feel that there should have been an associated rise in performance quality to match the rise in price.
Although a series of unfortunate events may have conspired to create a night full of technical mishaps, the individual performances were still very note-worthy. Except for a few less-than-impressive acts here and there, many of the performers rose to the occasion and delivered beautiful dance acts full of passion that left me nostalgically longing for more Afro-Caribbean cultural exposure long after the show was done.
The most memorable display of the night was a dance act by the STOP dance group. They combined elements of African, Indian, and contemporary dance to create a jaw-dropping performance that earned them a well-deserved standing ovation. The choreography was clean and professional, except for a few mishaps, but they pushed the envelope even further with daring stunts that made the laws of physics a mere suggestion. It was a true testament to human agility.
Coming a very close second in my favourites of the night was a passionate Ethiopian dance that told a sweet love story. It was well-coordinated and authentic all the way down to the dancers’ attire. The vivacious dancers gave energy to the audience with their youthful smile and their vibrant dance moves. It was truly a transcendent act.
Not to be outdone, there was also a strong representation from the Caribbean side with a lovely and also rather well-coordinated dance from the Bahamians. Mellow lighting melded well with smooth, easygoing dance steps to give a wonderful performance.
At the end of the night, I was left with mixed feelings. A part of me looked back at the previous Afrobana shows and began to draw harsh comparisons, but another part of me appreciated the amount of effort and planning that goes into events of this kind.
When working with a wide diversity of cultures, it is often hard to find common ground. The TACSU executive was able to do that, and this was admirable.
Although Afribbean Sensation had numerous shortcomings, the talent on-stage could not be denied. They brought the audience along with them on a ride that filled us with laughter, awe, and occasional sadness all in one event.
The beautiful performances made it easy to overlook other inadequacies, and I can honestly say that I still look forward to next year’s Afrobana.