Big Samir of hip-hop duo The Reminders rehearses for their mainstage performance at Schaeffer Theatre Friday morning. The show was the first in a series of shows that were part of the Bates Dance Festival. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Bates Dance Festival Director Shoshona Currier watches Friday morning’s dress rehearsal. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

A member of MaMa² is a blur in this long exposure photograph during Friday morning’s rehearsal. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Asad Ali Jafri (DJ MAN-O-WAX), right, during Friday morning’s rehearsal. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — There are few feelings in the world that can match those evoked by the power of experiencing live music.

Often people go into concerts with expectations of what’s to come, from the songs that will be played to the quality with which they are performed. Quality is about the sound of the music and vocals, the dancing, audience interaction, stage presence and the overall feel of taking in a live performance.

Last Friday’s hip-hop show kicked off the mainstage performance series at the Bates Dance Festival. It featured The Reminders, MaMa² (dancers Amirah Sackett and Mary Mar, aka B-Girl Mama) and DJ Man-O-Wax (Asad Ali Jafri) on the turntables. The collaboration of their talents was not only an artistic feast for the eyes and ears, but also for the soul. From the moment the stage became aglow in the soft yellow, green and blue lights, Aja Black and Big Samir of The Reminders welcomed the crowd in Schaeffer Theatre with an energy equivalent to a warm, loving embrace.

“We are not here only to perform for you. You are a part of this experience,” Black said. She went on to emphasize interaction and audience participation, that this was a shared experience for all who were present. It was a night to revel in peace and positivity and in our true identities. “Hip-hop is about community,” she told the crowd, and that night everyone in Schaeffer was a part of this community, even if only for a couple hours.

Mere minutes into The Reminders’ introduction to the show, the stage had been set, so to speak. Those in attendance were in for a rare, artistic treat.

No sooner were Samir and Black finished talking about individuality, being true to one’s identity and how for the night all present were “united as one,” that DJ Man-O-Wax began spinning and The Reminders showed everyone the caliber of energy and passion that would dominate the evening.

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The partners in life and music are both emcees, and Black is also a talented vocalist, evolving their insightful and soulful lyrics from words to emotions. It’s the perfect blend, her rapping with that feminine, hip-hop rasp, and in the next breath singing smooth, melodic notes with an impressive vocal range. It all ties in together well with Samir’s ability to deliver rhymes with accuracy and conviction — and at times an impressive, fast pace — make for quite an entertaining hip-hop performance.

Oh, and the dancing wasn’t so bad, either.

After a few songs the lights dimmed to black, leaving only Jafri standing still at rear, center stage basked in a pale glow with outlying cool, deep blue and purple tones. It presented an aura of positivity through lighting and use of color.

The stage was re-lit and now present with Jafri, Black and Samir was the dance duo MaMa², Sackett and Mary Mar, each positioned on opposite sides of the stage with heads down and arms at their sides.

Every time the women performed, whether it was together or solo, the beats would begin and they would transform quickly from standing absolutely still to full-on breaking, popping and locking with a seamless transition that was almost surreal, as if they naturally moved through life that way wherever they went.

Perhaps the world would be a happier and richer place if people did.

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Sackett and Mary Mar each performed solo dances that told some of their own personal stories through movement. Mary Mar danced over her narration of her family leaving the tumult of Cambodia and the tyranny and genocide of the Khmer Rouge Communist rule and coming to America as refugees in the late 1970s and early 1980s. What is such a dark and terrifying story becomes a bright and joyful tale highlighted by carefully-crafted movement and expression.

Black invited the crowd to get up out of their seats and dance, encouraging them to let the music flow through their bodies and let go of any worries of judgment that can accompany creative self-expression in our society. There was none of that there, something all the performers emphasized to the crowd. They created a sense of community.

Festival Director Shoshona Currier clearly understands the messages that the arts are intended to convey. Speaking after the show, her passion for the production and the entire festival experience was obvious in her voice.

“It’s so wonderful seeing all these people come together through creative expression,” she said.

She didn’t seem to want any credit for the monumental amount of work she’d been doing; it was about the work of the “incredible artists” who were a part of it. Currier seemed quite humbled.

The positive vibes, verses and messages and their heartfelt deliveries were enough to make one leave the theater that night feeling like a better, stronger and happier human for having been a part of that show.

“We are in this life together, it is a shared experience,” Black said after the show. “We are all unique individuals and we all have a time in our lives when we need to accept our roots, how we got to be who we are, and just let that go, and just love one another. It’s about getting to know each other, our true selves and our true identities and our foundation is part of that.”

“We owe it to ourselves to be true to our identities, and that includes our roots, the good and the bad. That’s how we form real relationships, how we evolve as people and as a society,” she added.

 


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