The soothing sweet voices of a dozen women, their skin tones a subtle spectrum from pale bark to shining ebony and adorned by bright fabrics, chant a cappella in Goro, a West African dialect: "Don't worry.... Welcome.... See everybody.... Say “hi'.... Enjoy yourself." This inviting community -- a mélange of body types, heights, ages, and cultural and movement backgrounds -- makes up Wassa Company, which will perform the dance program N'Zassa: An African Journey this weekend as part of the Performing Arts Network's Spring In-Studio Performance Series.
"Different colors of African fabric put together to make one cloth. We call that N'Zassa," explains Ivorian Djian Tie, the group's founder and choreographer, as well as its lone male member, save for lightning-fast djembe drummer Eric Goree. Djian Tie says his work culls West Africa's rich history of dance and drum, such as the Zaouly mask-dance tradition, and spikes it with some exciting moves of his own, like his muscular leap-frog over a standing Goree.
Djian Tie began dancing at age eight and went on to join Ivorian companies Ballet de la Marahoue and Le Ballet National de Côte d'Ivoire, where he met drummer Goree in 1991. When he performed in 1999 at the Florida Renaissance Festival, Djian Tie, who now keeps up a busy teaching and performance schedule around town, says he made so many friends in South Florida and found such enthusiasm for his art form that he decided to stay.
With Wassa he accomplished the goal he had in mind: "The ladies from America, they love really dancing African dance.... I want to make a female group because here in America, in African dance, you never see just a female group."
Some people leave home behind. Djian Tie, who toured internationally and lived in New York City for several years before moving to Miami, seems to bring his with him wherever he goes. "I just want to share what I know with people here," he explains. "That's why I came here."