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Kwanzaa celebration at the Apollo

DEMETRIA IRWIN | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.
Kwanzaa celebration at the Apollo

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga established the seven principles of Kwanzaa--an African American and Pan African holiday--and on December 27, the Apollo Theater will host its third annual Kwanzaa celebration for the whole family to engage in Dr. Karenga's vision.

"Regeneration Night" will feature the renowned Forces of Nature Dance Theatre as well as performances from the Songs of Solomon Inspirational Ensemble and also DK Dyson, a vocalist who sings a soulful mixture of jazz, R&B, rock and everything in between. Forces of Nature Dance Theatre also presents a hybrid performance of sorts, according to co-founder and artistic director Abdel Salaam.

"I built a name for myself by creating hybrids of different types of dance. People thought it was quirky because it wasn't one thing or another," said Salaam of his work with the 27-year-old dance company.

Today, Forces of Nature keeps to that tradition by presenting passionate pieces that combine traditional West African dance, ballet, contemporary modern dance, house and hip-hop.

Salaam has been a devotee of Kwanzaa since the late 1960s,when he was a teenager, and today he hopes to continue sharing the wisdom of Kwanzaa with all those who attend.

"We're going to work to empower our own communities and continue to do that for the world at large. It's a lot of work, but it should continue. My life is dedicated to these principles," said Salaam, who noted that the dance company has a three-pronged mission outside of producing visually stunning work: to empower through images of the African diaspora, to encourage and engage in environmentally responsible behavior and to live in harmony within different societies and communities.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Those principles will be illuminated in a three-part performance by Forces of Nature. First, there is "Terrestrial Wounds," which Salaam describes as a ballet about the regeneration of the oceans, rivers, lakes and seas.

Then there is "Cultural Seas," which focuses on a dialogue between an African and an African American about a multitude of issues including political awareness, racism, hair and code of dress. The final piece is an interactive one. It's called the "Right of Building a Nation." During that piece, elders and young people (who will be selected from the community by organizers beforehand) will literally build together using models to construct a city. Past participants have included a wide range of people from local small business owners, high school students, author and former Essenceeditor Susan Taylor, the late Adolph Caesar and others.

Salaam explained the meaning of the title of the Kwanzaa celebration during an interview with AmNews. "Regeneration means to be reborn. It's a term that has been used in anthropology and myth for centuries. It's the idea that cyclically, things have to be renewed and born again. That is accomplished through either divine work and energy or it happens through the work of men and women inspired by the creator. I've chosen the latter path."

"Regeneration Night" is a one-time-only performance on December 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Tickets are $15 each ($12 each for groups of five or more) and can be purchased at the Apollo box office (253 West 125th Street) or through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com/apollotheater.