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Costumed Lions Dancing to Distinctive Drummers

Kresge Audience Experiences a Lively Senegalese Tradition

By Fred Choi

Staff Writer

Simb: A Senegalese Fake Lion Spectacle

Rambax MIT and MIT Dance Theater Ensemble

Kresge Auditorium

April 25, 2 p.m.

In a well-coordinated effort, Rambax MIT and the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble presented a simb, a Senegalese tradition, last Sunday afternoon in Kresge Auditorium. These two MIT arts ensembles provided a memorable hour and a half of music, dance, and storytelling, with the aid of several guest artists and sponsorship from the Music & Theater Arts Section, Office of the Arts Special Programs, and the DeFlorez Fund for Humor.

According to the program notes, a simb is “a traditional Senegalese fake lion spectacle, or Senegalese lion dance,” and Rambax MIT, directed by Professor Patricia Tang, ably provided the musical accompaniment. Rambax MIT (pronounced “rahm-bach”) is an MIT club focused on learning sabar, the traditional drumming and dancing of the Wolof people of Senegal.

Like other indigenous forms of drumming, the Wolof drumming ensemble is divided into several subgroups on various instruments that combine rhythmic patterns into more complex textures. At this performance, Artist-in-Residence Lamine TourÉ, as the lead drummer, directed Rambax’s drumming, which, while a bit louder than desired, was intense and hypnotic.

Much attention was devoted to TourÉ himself, who was an immediately magnetic and mercurial presence. His larger-than-life personas alternated between a master of ceremonies, a hellfire-and-brimstone Methodist preacher, and a talk show host, with a few flashy dance moves thrown in for good measure.

The MIT Dance Theater Ensemble, directed by Professor Thomas F. DeFrantz, provided the majority of the dancing. The cast included a main lion (guest artist Pape Ndiaye), two smaller lions (each with colorful face and body paint and costumes representing lion skins) and three colorfully garbed women as “the lions’ wives.”

The story of the simb, which is generally about “‘taming’ the lion’s spirit through music,” was at times a bit difficult to follow, though perhaps it would have been less so with more comprehensive program notes. Although the other dancers didn’t quite match the effortless grace of the lithe James A. Tolbert ’05 and the playful Ndiaye, all the dancers were a pleasure to watch as they executed jumps and leaps; wild, oftentimes circular arm movements; repeated hand and foot movements; and the occasional bit of pantomine.

Much of the humor of the performance derived from the audience’s participation. As is traditional, the lions and their wives made audience members dance with them onstage. Audience participation tends to be predictable in every art form, but TourÉ’s mock-threatening cues to clap rhythms with him or repeat phrases back to him were ultimately winning. The energy levels of the performers were high all-around and the audience’s response enthusiastic. Clearly this was a successful collaboration and a chance for the MIT community to experience a lively Senegalese tradition.

Rambax MIT’s Spring Concert is this Saturday on the Student Center steps.