By Taki S. Raton
The renowned Ko-Thi Dance Company will host its 45th Year Fundraiser Thursday, January 30, 2014 in the Empire Ballroom of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Featuring the Adekola Adedapo Ensemble, a 5:30 reception will be held in the Monarch Lounge with Hors D ‘Oeuvres Buffett served at 6:30. A performance by Ton Ko-Thi will be highlighted as the evening’s entertainment.
The anniversary agenda will additionally include a 25 minute video of “Reflections Throughout the Years” as well as a published article display on Ko-Thi. “As we turn into our 45th year, I am amazed by the current members of the company who have stepped up to the plate,” says Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker Bronson, Founder and Artistic Director of Ko-Thi Dance Company and Department Head of the Performance & Choreography – African Diaspora Track at UWM. She adds that dance ensemble members, “are working fervently to help secure Ko-Thi in a new era. They respect the past while understanding the future vision. They inspire me!” Translated as “Little Ko-Thi,” Ton Ko-Thi is the vanguard of Ko-Thi’s Dance Company’s education outreach designed to identify, nurture and develop young artistic talent as they explore African based dance and music idioms. Ranging in ages from 6 to 18 years-old, these member youth performers are selected by yearly auditions or chosen directly from ensemble conducted studio classes.
The mission of Ton Ko-Thi is the development of talented children, the exposure of youth to traditional African performing arts, the stimulation of increased academic performance, the cultivation of normative social skills, and nurturing a cadre of new audiences and ensemble supporters. Founded in 1969, Ko-Thi Dance Company is both a nationally and internationally acclaimed company of artists trained in the history, methodology and techniques of dance and musical art forms from within the African Diaspora. Dedicated to the preservation and performance of traditional African American and Caribbean dance and drumming, Ko-Thi offers audiences what the founder terms as a “touring gem” of research, training and expertise. A native of Sierra Leone, West Africa, Bronson founded Ko-Thi upon her return from a research trip where she studied with the National Dance Company of Ghana at the University of Ghana in Legon. She served as a Full Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Department of Dance where she had been teaching since 1971.
Reflecting on this experience, the Ko-Thi artistic director recalls that, “In 1969, standing at the door of no return in Ghana, West Africa’s Elmina Castle, I had no idea that the ancestors would lead me on a journey that would last 45 years. Questioning what I wanted to do as a dancer, I was frustrated with dance training that did not embrace my history, my genetic pool, or my aesthetic choices.” She adds that upon returning from that trip, she was, “determined to elevate African dance to the level that I saw reflected in other cultures. The concept of personal and institutional pride. The concept of preservation. The concept of protection. I returned with a deep respect for the form; for telling the story of the African’s kidnapped journey through the Middle Passage and the peculiar experiences in the New World. This has been my whole life; to celebrate our culture and share it with all people. Our performing arts deserve no less!”
Bronson with this vision would created for her department the university’s first dance track on the techniques and history of African, African American and Caribbean dance. In 1995, she was awarded a Fullbright Research Fellowship allowing her to spend 3 months in Tanzania, East African where she taught at the University of Dar es Salaam. In 2001, Milwaukee’s Professional Dimensions honored her with their prestigious Sacagawea Award given annually to two outstanding women of achievement. Bronson has participated on numerous panels to include the 1999-2000 State Superintendent’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Arts in Education and the Arts 2000 Dance Panel and has served on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Arts Board. Regarding future initiatives, the published article display will evolve into an exhibit on Ko-Thi that will be available during Black History Month and presented with a talk on the importance of preserving Black institutions and cultivating historical legacies. Bronson says that the company plans on holding scheduled “VIP Open Rehearsals” during this 45th year so that, she adds, “funders and donors can see what we are doing as we prepare for concerts during this 2014-2015 performance season.”
For Ko-Thi Dance Company 45th Year Fundraiser ticket and cooperate table information, please call (414) 273-0676 or on their web site at www.ko-thi.org.
(Caption information: Photo GGB1813 and Photo GGB1823--Two Ko-Thi dancers, Naima and Tahirah, performing. IMG 0121--An early photo of Ko-Thi Founder and Artistic Director Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker Bronson performing.)