Mask dance tells story of Ivory Coast music and folklore
Morning Call; Allentown, PA
Feb 16, 2002
by Kathryn Williams Craft
Vado Diomande requires 20 minutes of solitude to begin the ritual
He will don a sacred mask handed down through generations of his
Mahouka family in Africa's Ivory Coast -- a mask so powerful no
one else may touch it.
Diomande feels the weight of his calling. Villagers back home are
heavily invested in how he will perpetuate their culture in the
United States. Diomande had to request their permission to take
the mask from the country; no substitute exists.
As Diomande prepares, he is committed to the spiritual task ahead
of him. For once he puts on the mask, he is no longer Vado Diomande
(VAH-doe Dee-oh-MAHN-day), founder and artistic director of Kotchegna
He becomes Gue Pelou (Geh Peh-LOO), mediator between the land of
the ancestors and the land of the living, a spirit that expresses
itself through acrobatic feats performed on stilts.
When this mask appears in tribal life, it brings blessings and
protection to important celebrations -- marriages, deaths, initiations,
harvesting and sowing....
...Diomande pulls his performers from a pool of 20 dancer and musician
members of the company. The male dancers are Africans, some of whom
have also been entrusted with sacred masks...
...One of Kotchegna's full-evening pieces is a myth about the
time when women were in charge of the mask, and the men became so
upset that they challenged the women to a competition and won the
mask back. There is no standard repertory; every program is decided
upon close to the performance date.
Diomande became well-known in the Ivory Coast for his accomplishments
as a stilt dancer as a result of the West African tradition of engaging
in competitive dance. His reputation continues to grow through his
performance and residency programs in the United States.
© Morning Call