Monday, December 08, 2003

Journey: The Story of Umoja (Ohio Dance Theatre)

'JOURNEY' a good lesson in African-American History

Ohio Dance Theatre, under the able guidance of Artistic Director Denise Gula, is noted for its
dancing. That’s what they do best. The company decided to broaden its mission and develop a
presentation that would serve as a staged educational experience. Gula, who has a strong background as a theatrical director and actress as well as choreographer, chose the topic of the plight of the African American. Appropriately, JOURNEY: THE STORY OF UMOJA is being presented in area venues during Black history month.

Much like Martin Duberman’s play IN WHITE AMERICA, JOURNEY exposes the audience to a trip from slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond. This is done through words, dance and song. Unfortunately, the singing and dancing are much to brief and often the words are much too much. There are several long periods where only words are present. Normally, this
would not be a bad thing, but the dancing and singing were so well done, so powerful, that when words were used alone, the production slowed down.

As is, students who see the production, and there are many who will see the show at both the Cleveland Play House and Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Center, will gain an insight into the plight of African Americans, and be exposed to the thrill of live theatrics. It’s too bad that Gula was not able to incorporate dancing throughout, even when the speeches of such historical figures as Martin Luther King, Barbara Jordan. and Medgar Evers were being presented. It would have made the experience even more powerful.

Capsule judgement: The cast is excellent. The visual images are generally engrossing. The study guide that accompanies the performances should help teachers and students learn history in an interesting manner.