A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered to welcome dancers from Romania and the West African nation of Togo. The almost weeklong festival included performances and events in Oxford, Clarksdale and Charleston.
“We’ve had a very good year. We’ve had very exciting performances,” said Mary Sloan, president of the festival’s board of directors. “We had a European group and an African group, and that’s our two biggest traditions in Mississippi. We came from a blend of Africans and Europeans.”
Elvis Presley tribute artist Will Atkinson of Oxford opened the show on Sunday, performing songs like “Suspicious Minds” and “How Great Thou Art.”
“This has been one of the greatest weekends I’ve ever had,” Atkinson told the crowd. “It’s great to see these nations in harmony.”
The Romanian dancers, called Dor Transylvan, performed intricate, fast dance moves, marked with lots of stomping and clapping, to traditional Romanian whistles. The men were dressed in flowing white suits with black boots, while the women wore black and white dresses. Their costumes were handmade, as were their drums, which they made from African woods and goat hides.
Togohuan, a group of dancers and drummers from Togo, performed in bright yellow, green, purple and white outfits.
Latevi Lawson, a dancer in Togohuan, performed some solo dances and wowed the crowd by eating and breathing fire.
Lawson, 33, is a third-generation dancer and performer.
“I was born into the group,” he said, who learned how to work with fire from his grandfather.
“He told me, you need to talk to the fire. The fire responds to you, and you will be one,” he said. “If you don’t talk to the fire, you can get burned.”