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‘Sankofa’ brings Black history to life

Annual dance, song and spoken word performance returns to Strand Theatre

Mandile Mpofu
‘Sankofa’ brings Black history to life
This year’s performance of “Sankofa” promises to be vibrant and moving. BANNER PHOTO

On a recent Monday afternoon, Andrea Herbert Major was in full director mode at the Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts. Wearing an all-black ensemble with pink pointe shoes to match her Barbie-pink nails, she sat in a wood-floored studio fine-tuning a series of dance routines.

The dancers —the youngest aged 6, the oldest 70 — were dressed smartly in black outfits, hair pulled away from their faces in various updos: braids, cornrows, buns, puffs. With Herbert Major’s instruction, the group worked through several dynamic routines composed of leaps and turns and fluid hip rolls as they prepared for this year’s performance of “Sankofa.”

Every year since 2016, Herbert Major and the Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts (RCPA) have put on “Sankofa,” a show made up of a mélange of dance, song and spoken word. This year, the long-running production comes back to Dorchester’s historic Strand Theatre with two performances on Saturday, March 2 and one on Sunday, March 3.

“The focus is on Black Americans and what they have done, what they’ve been through, what they have contributed and … where they’re going,” said Herbert Major, who founded the dance school more than 50 years ago. “But I want to tell a story so that if people bring their children to the show, they are getting a history lesson while watching a performance. They’re learning.”

Dancers rehearsing at the Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts for the March production of “Sankofa,” BANNER PHOTO

Some of the production’s dance routines are set to upbeat music from various African countries, while others feature more somber notes and depict moments in the history of slavery. Major said it’s important for Black history to be a key part of “Sankofa,” because children “don’t understand what their ancestors went through.”

When Herbert Major created “Sankofa” seven years ago, it was from a place of frustration.

“There was so much happening around the world, with Black people being killed and murdered for no reason,” she said. “It was like we didn’t exist, we had no value.”

She said she thought if Black people knew who they were and where they came from, it would have an impact. This was also her vision when she founded her own dance school in the 1960s that a decade later became the Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts.

Inspired by the likes of Alvin Ailey’s signature production, “Revelations,” Herbert Major brought “Sankofa” to life, a show that this year promises to be vibrant and moving. She said she hopes “Sankofa” becomes a long-lasting legacy that outlives her.

Although “Sankofa” — a Ghanaian word meaning to retrieve — centers on Black stories, Herbert Major said anybody can learn from and enjoy the performance.

“I really hope that [spectators] feel the joy of what they’ve watched,” she said. “And really leave saying, ‘I enjoyed the show. That was really amazing.’ And come back next year to see what else is in it.”

Andrea Herbert Major, arts, dance, music, poetry, Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts, Sankofa