Best of the fest

Celebrating African-American culture with theater, dance and poetry

The seventh biennial National Black Arts Festival is one of the largest celebrations of African-American art and artists in the nation, and it is certainly one of Atlanta's most accessible events. Over the course of the festival, an arts enthusiast could conceivably take in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, watch renowned dance companies like the African American Dance Ensemble, attend a poetry slam, discuss a documentary about Africa with the filmmaker, listen to readings of world-class plays at 7 Stages and Theater Emory, dance in a drum circle and hear a Nobel Laureate talk about his imprisonment in Nigeria — all for free. Some events are ticketed but at reasonable rates. For instance, Thembi Mtshali's one-woman show A Woman Waiting, which had successful runs in New York at $50 a pop, is $10 here, and $5 will grant admission to the festival's culmination of events at the Atlanta University Center Aug. 3-6.


Kicking off the festival will be a lively procession of dancers and drummers who will travel down Auburn Avenue to the Studioplex, the festival's new headquarters. A ticketed gala will take place inside. July 28 at 6-8 p.m., Studioplex, 659 Auburn Avenue. Proces-sion free. For gala ticket information call 404-730-0177.

The Arts Festival hosts an opening block party in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District with performances and activities for children, open studios, music and food. July 30 from noon-6 p.m., Studioplex, 659 Auburn Avenue. Donations requested.


Swahili for "our children," the Harlem-based dance group Batato Yetu, comprised entirely of children, performs energetic dances based on traditional African song, dance, music and folktales of Angola, Zambia and the Congo. July 28-29 at 2 p.m., Clark Atlanta University, Davage Auditorium, $5.

Atlanta's own Ballethnic Dance Company, which combines European ballet styles, contemporary dance and African and African-American traditions, will showcase its current works-in-progress in collaboration with contemporary African choreographers Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro, and master drummers from Atlanta and Burkina Faso, Africa. July 30 at 5:30 p.m., Clark Atlanta University, Davage Auditor-ium. Free.

The renowned contemporary dance company from Ohio performs to the music of the New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band with choreography by Donald McKayle and Ronald K. Brown. July 31, Aug. 1-2 at 8 p.m., Morehouse College, King Chapel, $20.

FA NYERE AFRICAN DANCE AND DRUMMING CONFERENCE Why just sit and watch dance when you can get up and do it yourself? Fa Nyere, a collective of Atlanta-based companies, will celebrate the traditions of African dance and drumming, welcoming participants of all ages. July 27-30, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Clark Atlanta University, Vivian Henderson Gymnasium. Free.

AFRICAN AMERICAN DANCE ENSEMBLE Now in its 16th season and under the direction of renowned choreographer Chuck Davis, this company out of North Carolina performs lively renditions of traditional African and African-American dances. Aug. 4, Atlanta University Center, festival mainstage. Free with festival admission.


Atlanta's Theater of the Stars presents the Tony Award-winning musical revue, which traces the evolution of the blues from Africa through the end of the 20th century. Aug. 1-6 at 8 p.m.; Aug. 5-6 at 2 p.m., Fox Theatre, $18-45.

Theatre Emory presents a staged reading of an adaptation of the personal writings and prison notes of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian who was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. The play is based on the 27 months of solitary confinement he spent following his 1967 arrest by the Nigerian government. Aug. 4, 5 p.m., Emory University, Cannon Chapel. Donations requested.

Actress and singer Thembi Mtshali presents her acclaimed one-woman autobiographical show, which focuses on the period in her life when she, like her mother, was a domestic worker in South Africa. July 29 at 2 and 8 p.m. and July 30 at 5 p.m., Spelman College, Burroughs Hall. $10.

The ever-popular Atlanta-based youth ensemble presents a sneak preview of new work collaborations with members of South Africa's Soweto Dance Theater. July 29 at 4 p.m., West End Performing Arts Center. Free.

7 Stages presents a reading of South African writer Walter Chakela's story of people living under apartheid. Aug. 3 at 5 p.m., Renaissance Hotel. Free.


Performances by spoken word artists Blackatt, Carl Hancock Rux, Kembo, Will Power, Poetix, Shezon, Star and Faraji Salim. Aug. 2 at 10 p.m., Ying Yang Cafe, $10.

Internationally acclaimed playwright Pearl Cleage returns to her alma mater to read selections from her newest work, I Wish I Had a Red Dress. Aug. 6 at 4 p.m., Spelman College, Cosby Center. Free with festival admission.

Dr. Johnetta B. Cole interviews the Nobel Literature Laureate, Nigerian-born Wole Soyinka, on his life and work. Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m., Emory University, Cannon Chapel. Free.

Start your day with a cup of coffee and a talk with some of your favorite authors. New and established writers will read and discuss their works, with book-signings to follow. The event takes place daily at the Renaissance Hotel at 10 a.m., with highlights including poet Felton Eaddy on July 31, Black Panther Party member and memoirist Elaine Brown on Aug. 2, short story writer Anthony Grooms on Aug. 3, author Nathan McCall on Aug. 4 and best-selling novelist Tina McElroy Ansa on Aug. 5. July 31-Aug. 5 at 10 a.m., Renaissance Hotel. Free.

Spelman College hosts a series of on-going literary panels and discussions Aug. 4-5. Writers, including Sonia Sanchez, Askia Toure and Ralph Cheo Thurman, discuss such topics as content, competition and creativity in the writing life. Aug. 4 at noon and 3 p.m., Aug. 5 at 2 and 5 p.m., Spelman College, Manley Student Center Atrium. Donation requested.


This festival tradition features more than 70 artists from around the country presenting a mix of original artwork for sale, including paintings, sculpture, fine jewelry, leather goods, textiles, hand-blown glass and dolls, with lectures and demonstrations daily at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Aug. 3 from 2-8 p.m., Aug. 4 from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Aug. 5 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Aug. 6 from noon-6 p.m., Clark Atlanta University, Student Center. Free with Festival admission.

Book worm? Try the NBAF's book fair where thousands of books with a large selection of African-American titles including novels, scholarly works, fiction and short stories, plays, poetry and children's books will be available for purchase. Aug. 3 from 2-8 p.m., Aug. 4 from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Aug. 5 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and Aug. 6 from noon-6 p.m., Clark Atlanta University, Student Center. Free with Festival admission.

An interactive village for children in which significant moments in early African-American history are re-enacted by historical interpreters. Actors trace history from the first landing of African people on the Georgia coast up through the Emancipation Proclamation. Aug. 3-4 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Aug. 5 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Aug. 6 from noon-6 p.m., Spelman College, Green. Free with festival admission. u

The National Black Arts Festival will be held July 28-Aug. 6 at various venues. For information call 404-730-0177 or check out CL's'' full coverage of __The National Black Arts Festival