Q&A with Sankofa Managing Director and Principle Dancer Kasha Smith-Poynter
O'Hara Shipe: The Sankofa Dance Troupe formed in 2017. What was the catalyst behind its formation?
Kasha Smith-Poynter:The catalyst was a series of African Dance workshop at Rhythm of Light, taught by our now co-artistic directors Johnnie Wright and Misha Baskerville. Those workshops were wildly popular and sparked interest for an adult professional African Dance Troupe. We held auditions and members were selected to create Sankofa Dance Theatre-Alaska. We are in our second dance season.
OS: So, Sankofa Dance Theatre – Alaska is part of a bigger program?
KSP: Yes. The original Sankofa Dance Theatre formed in Baltimore, Maryland and now there are programs across the US!
OS: “Sankofa” comes from the Twi language of Ghana and translates to "go back and fetch it". What is the significance of the troupe’s name?
KSP: As culture bearers in our community, our namesake embodies our mission in bringing forth a renaissance of cultural creative arts throughout Alaska. We strive to inspire brilliance in the whole community regardless of age, gender or ethnicity through art, music, dance, and literary works as vehicles to bring enlivenment, cultural exchange and unity.
OS: You’re Sankofa’s Principle Dancer. How long have you been dancing?
KSP: I’ve been dancing my entire life in Anchorage. I also had the opportunity to dance with a group named Umoja African Dance Troupe in New Jersey and it opened so many doors for me. I was able to perform for Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz, & the Dance Theatre of Harlem and perform with Urban Bush Women and Ririe Woodbury Dance Company. I’ve also danced with our Master Drummer, Mr. Jesse, while in Umoja and then we reunited at the onset of Sankofa Alaska.
OS: What dance experience do your fellow dancers bring to the table?
KSP: Our company members came in with varied levels of dance experience. Johnnie Wright III and Misha Baskerville are Co-Artistic Directors and siblings from Savannah, Georgia. They attended a performing arts elementary school that fueled the artists at such a young age. Our other dancers Tey, Tiana, Amy, Destiny all have previous dance experience either in other dance companies or school related dance programs. But we also have a dancer named Stevie who came open and ready to learn with no dance background. We are very proud of how far she has come. It goes to show that it’s never too late to try something new and you can be good at it too! Of course, I have to mention the members of our youth tribe, Watoto, that all have previous dance experience as well.
OS: Who choreographs your dances and where does the inspiration come from?
KSP: It’s typically a collaborative effort between Johnnie Wright and Misha Baskerville, however inspiration flows differently each time, depending on music, lyrics and movement everyone can become a contributor to a piece.
OS: What do you think the importance of having a troupe like Sankofa within the Anchorage community is?
KSP: We are firm believes in the notion that representation matters. Using the medium of performing arts allows others to engage in a sense of cultural understanding in an easily approachable way. In turn, we gain a stronger sense of community when one feels seen and heard and understood. Our goal is to elevate everyone’s investment into the community and that begins with knowing the people in it.
OS: What can we expect to see during your upcoming performance “Uhuru: A Reprisal of Freedom”?
KSP: Be prepared to embark on a cultural journey as we celebrate the road to emancipation. We will reflect on the past and honor the journey of African-Americans course to freedom through dance, drumming, song and spoken word.
OS: Are there going to be any special guest performances?
KSP: Sankofa works hard to build community through the arts. We have several guest performers in our show that have either been participants in our residency program or are standing collaborative partners. Performers include: Asenati Brown, Black Arts North Academy, Darryl Hawk, Dawn McLain, East Dance Contempo, Dancewest, Mostly Melanin Arts - M.M.A., Tre Josey and the Underground Dance Company!
OS: Sometimes cultural events can be intimidating for people to attend if they don't identify with the particular culture being celebrated. What would you say to someone who is on the fence about attending?
KSP:Well that’s the wonderful thing about living in the most diverse school districts in the country. We are privy to many cultural experiences here. Every culture has a drum, a song and a celebratory dance. On those basic elements anyone can identify with cultural tradition. Showcases like these are meant to create the dialogue to ask questions and get informed. As Maya Angelou said, “when we know better, we do better”.