Baderinwa Ain lived in New Orleans and spent her days dancing professionally and directing a children's dance-theater group. Then Hurricane Katrina hit. After evacuating to Memphis, Ain realized something: "I was hearing all this about New Orleans musicians who were changing Memphis' music scene, but nobody has been covering the dance part."
So when she heard about the local Bantaba Dance Company, she was intrigued. Could she have an impact? She attended a few rehearsals, joined, and eventually became artistic director, exerting her influence on an already-gifted group.
This Friday and Saturday, the Bantaba Dance Company will perform its second annual Village Heritage Concert.
This year's concert will tell a story Ain created to embody West African life. The elders of two feuding villages decide to hold a stick-fighting competition, and the winning male will choose a female of the opposing village to marry, thus bringing the villages together.
"I came up with this particular story to show how we have to go back to the old ways -- specifically how we must go to the elders who have more knowledge and wisdom about how to correct or solve problems," Ain says. "[The dance is] aimed at certain communities and youth, because there's just so much going on right now with violence and crime."
The story comes alive with vibrant costumes designed by Ain. "Some of the costumes were based on the traditional costuming that's worn in the professional ballets that came out of Africa, and some are strictly my design," Ain says. "They're very colorful, with lots of movement, because in African dance, the costumes dance as well."
The music includes African drums and flutes. "The music is traditional African rhythms primarily from the West coast, in the Guinea-Mali region," Ain says. "There are always live musicians in African dance because the dance and the drum go hand-in-hand."
The result, according to Ain, will be electrifying. "You're going to have people sitting in seats, but they won't be sitting for long," she says. "It's very high-energy in terms of the dance as well as the music. Once the drums start playing, they get you ready to move. Your heart begins to beat faster."
"You feed off the audience's energy and that makes you a better performer," says dancer Sah Ankh Sa Maat, who co-founded Bantaba in 2003 with Corey Davis.
To Maat and her troupe, interplay with the audience is key in making Bantaba dancers powerful teachers of African heritage. It's this philosophy that shaped the company's decision to make the Village Heritage Concert an annual event.
"It's a continual learning process. We can't go over everything that goes on in an African village in just one year," Maat says. "We're teachers, so we have to keep on teaching."