HomeDa Birds NewsExploring an Infinite Pathway Leading Back to the Past: A Review

Exploring an Infinite Pathway Leading Back to the Past: A Review

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Before it begins, they are already on the move — a cluster of women, walking in a circle. And for nearly the entire 75 minutes of “Adaku, Part 1: The Road Opens” they continue walking, to a drumbeat that almost never ceases. The road they are on isn’t ordinary. It’s metaphorical, the one the connects the past to the future.

The production they are in is also not ordinary. Created by Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born, it is the first part of a speculative mythology about a precolonial African village at a moment of crisis. It’s a novel hybrid: a work of ritual dance theater that bursts into song and becomes something like a play. And at its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space on Tuesday, it seemed to be still finding its shape.

Born’s set is elegantly spare: circles outlined on the floor, an oval sculpture, a backing wall covered in what looks like crumpled aluminum foil. The lyrics of Okpokwasili’s songs, which at first she sings in harmony with the other circling women, set up the poetic idea of the road and a connection to those who have come before.

After a while, the dancer AJ Wilmore breaks free of the others, bouncing happily. Soon, she is joined by Audrey Hailes in an enigmatic duet that becomes magical as the lights dim and the dancers windmill their arms with firefly lights in their hands. The streaks of illumination outline the shape of the sculpture, but only in fleeting afterimages.

It turns out that they are making something — a sculpture or carving — and also that they are characters in a story. Okpokwasili is the first to speak. In call-and-response questions and answers with the other walkers, she introduces herself as Enzinwanyi, an exceptional woman who has left an abusive husband and will now take on a wife herself. Before the wedding, she has

But instead of helping her connect with her ancestors, the carving, Okpokwasili complains, has given her a nightmare: one in which children bleat like goats as they race toward their doom, and she, like an African Holden Caulfield, cannot catch them.

At this point, the show becomes a little like an acted-out Yelp review, with Okpokwasili and Hailes trading arguments and rebuttals about who is responsible for the nightmares and the faulty product. Wilmore intervenes — she is Adaku, the daughter of Ezinwanyi — with the diplomatic suggestion that the carving be destroyed.

The stakes of this dispute are unclear, though it emerges that they are extraordinarily high. The nightmare is real. Children have been disappearing. Enzinwanyi’s nightmare will prove personal, prompting her most affecting song, a cry of “why?” Here, the drum poignantly stops.

All this action and drama, though, feels crammed into the end, capped with a coup de théâtre involving the foil. The story succeeds in sketching political implications: Okpokwasili uses her commanding presence to make Ezinwanyi something of a demagogue, and the village’s grief and loss turn the blame game circular.

Yet all the spoken sections have an amateur quality that may not be intentional. There are a few moments of humor, as when Okpokwasili chides the other endlessly walking women for looking tired, and there are moments of pleasure, as they ease on down the road. But “Adaku” feels unfinished, not just part of a larger project but also like a draft that isn’t quite final.

“Adaku, Part 1: The Road Opens”

Continues through Saturday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; bam.org.

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