Music: Johann Sebastian Bach and traditional African music, composed and arranged by Pierre Akendengue and Hughes de Courson
Choreography: Val Caniparoli
African Dance Consultants: Naomi Gedo Johnson-Washington and Zakariya Sao Diouf
Staging: Evelyn Cisneros
Scenic and Costume Design: Sandra Woodall
Lighting Design: Lisa J. Pinkham
Duration: 38 minutes
Premiere: March 28, 1995; San Francisco Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: April 8, 1997

Ariana Lallone and Christophe Maraval in Lambarena.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena was inspired by a score of the same name that blends traditional African rhythms and melodies with extended passages from Johann Sebastian Bach. In response to this exciting and unusual piece of music, and seeking to make a “joyous celebration of dancing,” Caniparoli choreographed an emotion-filled work in eight movements that boldly merges the vocabularies of classical ballet and African dance.

Of the process, Caniparoli has said: “It would have been obvious to do classical steps with the Bach, and ethnic movement with the African. But the score is a marriage of these two kinds of music, and I wanted the choreography to be the same thing. I wanted to show that you can do either kind of movement to both kinds of music.”

To ensure the authenticity of the African influence, the distinguished African dancers, teachers, and choreographers Zakariya Sao Diouf and Naomi Geo Johnson-Washington were engaged as advisors. Caniparoli explains that “Zak’s style of dance has a real freedom from the waist down, and that’s very difficult for ballet dancers. He kept pushing them to ‘loosen up’ the hips. Naomi worked on that as well, but she also worked with the upper body, showing the dancers how to hold the head and the neck and how to move the arms.”

An exhilarating challenge for the dancers of San Francisco Ballet, on whom Caniparoli first set the work in 1995 and, since its Seattle premiere in 1997, for the dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Lambarena breaks new imaginative ground for artists and audiences alike.

Notes by Jeanie Thomas.

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