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Step Afrika!, a Washington, D.C., Dance Company, to Perform Premiere of ‘Drumfolk’

Some of America’s most innovative and influential art has resulted from African Americans transcending oppression and discrimination to communicate their stories. Step Afrika!, the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping, will build on that tradition when it performs the world premiere of “Drumfolk” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, in Eisenhower Auditorium.

Tickets for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State presentation—$42 for an adult, $15 for a University Park student, and $32 for a person 18 and younger—are available online at cpa.psu.edu or by phone at 814-863-0255 or 800-ARTS-TIX. Tickets are also available at three State College locations: Eisenhower Auditorium (weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Penn State Downtown Theatre Center (weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Bryce Jordan Center (weekdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). A grant from the University Park Student Fee Board makes Penn State student prices possible.

The Negro Act of 1740, a reaction to the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina, took away from enslaved Africans the rights to assemble, read and use drums. In response, they internalized the rhythm of the drum and began to use their bodies as percussive instruments.

“Drumfolk”—a celebration of community, resilience and determination—will feature Step Afrika!’s first presentation of traditional masked dances from West Africa; a choreographic investigation of the ring shout, a 200-plus-year-old African-American percussive dance rarely seen on American stages; and a contemporary work exploring the ways the drum was reclaimed through mediums such as stepping and vocal percussion.

Watch a preview of Step Afrika! below.

Stepping blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities, African traditional dance, and influences from various other dance and art forms.

“Stepping uses the body as an instrument to create intricate rhythms and sounds through a combination of stomping, claps and spoken word,” said Amy Dupain Vashaw, audience and program development director for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.

The Washington, D.C., troupe, which is marking its 25th year, is known for integrating songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation into its productions.

In addition to the performance, the dance company will be in residence in State College.

“While the company is with us for a week, they’ll engage with campus and community organizations and classes,” Vashaw said. “We feel so lucky that their inaugural visit to us includes both the world premiere and a meaningful, in-depth engagement of a week.”

Two engagement events are free and open to the public: a 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, exchange with Penn State dance groups and a 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, discussion and stepping workshop. Find details about the engagement events here.

After the “Drumfolk” performance, dancers will participate in a discussion with interested audience members.

McQuaide Blasko Endowment supports the Penn State performance. The presentation of Step Afrika! was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Support for programming at the Center for the Performing Arts is provided, in part, by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The presentation is part of a Center for the Performing Arts season focus, “The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens.” Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support for engagement programming related to this and other focus events. Susan and Lewis Steinberg sponsor one of the residency activities.

Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring a visiting artist or artists, is offered in Eisenhower one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders. Artistic Viewpoints regularly fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis.

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