“We’re not hip-hop, we’re not anything,” Stage Manager Etiosa Omeike ’24 told the audience before the show started. “We’re African.”
Omeike is a former writer for The Prospect.
On Dec. 2 and 3, Dorobucci, Princeton University’s African dance group, presented “Picture Perfect” in the Frist Theatre. The show offered a fusion of the modern and traditional, threaded along by the narrative of a family reunion … and all the inevitable drama.
Throughout the two hours of performance, videos were interspersed between dances — an all too common theme among University dance groups. Within the added video element, the audience watched a family reunion get crafted together by the matriarch of the family, the grandmother, named simply Grandma in the show. Grandma’s character was complete with a mumu, hair wrap, and heavy accent.
The video clips in between dances featured a wide range of drama: from two-faced family members, to an uninvited lurker, to plans to buy a family complex back in the homeland, and to threats to be sent to Africa for bad behavior. All this and more added to the excitement, as themes mentioned in the clips were then portrayed in the dances.
According to Grandma, it made sense to “put that drama to use and be on TV.” The twist is that none of the other family members realize they are being filmed until the end of the show, exposing that they are not as “Picture Perfect” as they may seem. In the end, the audience got to see an authentic family dynamic that is all too relatable to anyone with African roots. While the pauses between the video clips and dances were long, leaving the audience in dark and in silent anticipation, the waits were worth it.
While the video offered a compellingly hilarious plot, the dancing shined through. Complete with jump kicks, intricate footwork, ensemble choreography, splits, and flips, each dance routine was filled with explosive energy. When the lights went down, the audience’s cheers begged for more.
Staying true to the promise of African dance, the music and choreography blended modern and traditional influences. One routine featured Eskista, a traditional, millenia-old style of Habesha dance, performed by the Princeton Ethiopian and Eritrean Students Association. Then, in an almost complete reversal, the next dance featured a remix of Afro pop featuring Ed Sheeran, coincidentally a callback to a prior plot point in the videos: at the family reunion, one of the family members shared their disgust with an Ed Sheeran remix during a made-for-TV confessional. In a moment of self-referential irony, the dancers began to walk off stage at the sound of Sheeran’s vocals.
With the performance showcasing a blend of styles, the variety in expression was enhanced by dynamic lighting and costuming. Each dance had a unique costume: ranging from jorts and a white tank top to custom kente crop tops to traditional Habesha kemis and netela, dress and scarf in Amharic, respectively.
The lighting also highlighted the dynamic nature of the show, with flashing lights that filled the stage with color. The use of white light focused the audience’s attention on specific movements, showcasing certain members of the “picture perfect family.”
While the show was focused on the family as a whole, the interplay between the video clips and lighting emphasized movements around certain family members. The lights illuminated the connections between the dancers, moving with them as they passed through the spotlight. The additional lighting elements created a rhythm, pulsating with the moves of dancers, that tied all of the production elements together.
Dorobucci’s Fall 2022 show is not something you see everyday on Princeton’s campus. Drawing inspiration from across the Continent, the performance was a representation of the complexity of African culture and experience within the African Diaspora. The African community on Princeton’s campus is not a monolith, and Dorobucci presents that truth. At the same time, it shows us that its beauty is for everyone.
At the end of the show, the full company of Dorobucci joined each other on stage — lip syncing to the music and dancing amongst each other. By the end, the audience was practically on stage with them.
Like members of the picture perfect family said in one of the videos: “You just had to be there.”
Regina Roberts is a contributing writer for The Prospect and the Podcast section at the ‘Prince.’
Eden Teshome is an Associate Podcast Editor and news contributor at the ‘Prince’ from Ellicott City, Md.
Lina Kim, a Podcast contributor at the ‘Prince,’ also contributed reporting to this piece. Please direct any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.