If audiences feel empowered after a Venus Rising performance, then members of this globally-inspired group have accomplished their mission. “We want to uplift and inspire,” says Founding Director Zeva Soroker, who started the all-female dance and drum group in 2003. “Music is an amazing thing,” she adds. “It helps with harmonizing and healing.”
On Dec. 14, performance-goers can expect yet another energetic installment of this drum thumping philosophy, but with a twist. The free performance aptly titled “Rhythms of Diversity” will offer a slight breakaway from the group’s traditional West African repertoire. “We are headed toward world fusion,” Soroker says.
On stage, Venus Rising is undeniably convincing. As the lights dim, silhouettes of female drummers emerge. Their hands lift and pound down to create tribal beats. Dancers adorned in colorful African garb undulate, jump, kick and sway into the spotlight. “Our performances encourage audiences to delight in the power and beauty of women,” Soroker says. The group fuses West African dance with Caribbean and Middle Eastern dance forms. For the upcoming performance, one work begins as an Israeli folk song and Hora dance and transitions into a South African “boot” dance. The “boot” dance originated from the South African mines, where workers used stomping and clapping rhythms to communicate and make the best of harsh work conditions. “We are really excited about debuting this piece,” says Soroker of Coral Springs.
The Children of Kuumba, a children’s African performance troupe based out of Hollywood, will assist the South African segment with their booted feet, clad with bells. They will also perform a “can” dance for which they make an African-derived krin rhythm with cans. The clanging then fades into the boot dance. “I like to expose the kids to different styles of dance,” says Anita MacBeth, a long-time Venus Rising dancer, who directs Children of Kuumba with dancer, Chipo Harriott. Another anticipated choreography, titled Kpamlogo, is based on a recreational dance and drumming form from Ghana, West Africa.
Overall, “Rhythms of Diversity” is yet another reflection of Venus Rising’s own ethnic makeup. While Soroker is of Russian heritage, members represent Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad, Latin America, the United States and Spain, among other backgrounds. Similarly, Venus Rising’s youngest percussionist is 19-years-old, while the oldest dancer is 60.
“We are a diverse world and the differences between us become the basis of conflict. But diversity can be really beautiful and something we can enjoy,” says Soroker, 48. In 2000, a sponsored trip to Guinea, West Africa allowed the former Barry University and Dade County school teacher to study drumming. “It was beyond my wildest dreams. It was life changing,” she says. Upon her return to South Florida, she continued her passion and eventually “felt a calling to do something with all women,” she says.
Soroker started Venus Rising Women’s Drum and Dance Ensemble with just three female drummers. The vision, she says, “was to have a circle of women and a sisterhood, where we would serve as role models for each other and be role models for younger girls, to show them that all things are possible. That ‘you can play the big drums, not just the tambourines.’”
Today, Venus Rising has grown into a 20-member sisterhood. The group has performed throughout South Florida, including a spot on Telemundo and a 2010 Miami Heat half-time show. They also performed for the Dallas Mavericks in Texas. “I really enjoy it,” says dancer MacBeth, who also works as a dance educator at Bethune Elementary School for the Arts in Hollywood. “I look forward to us growing and sharing with other women the love of movement.”
At 56, MacBeth tries to convey through dance that creative expression has no age limits. “Don’t stop, keep moving no matter how old you are,” she insists.
That type of motivation is what Venus Rising is all about. Says Soroker: “We want to inject more of that into the world.”
“Rhythm of Diversity” takes place at the Old Dillard Museum, 1009 N.W. 4th St., Fort Lauderdale, Fri. Dec. 14. The first set starts at 6:00 p.m., and the second starts at 7:00 p.m.; www.venusrising.net.
Photo credit: Niki Lopez