Royal Burundi drummers and dancers perform at the Grand Opera House

On Sept. 18, the Grand Opera House will bring foreign flair and African beats to Macon with the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, the group that—according to the Grand’s press release—inspired the first Word of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) celebration back in the 80s.
Drawing on a rich tradition of tribal heritage, the Burundi dancers’ percussion ensemble performs dances that have been associated with important community ceremonies: births, deaths, the rise of monarchs and the coming of age.
None of the music is written down; like stories in an oral culture, the art has been handed down through the centuries from fathers to sons by rote.
According to the group’s biography, “the drums are sacred and represent, along with the king, the powers of fertility and regeneration.”
The group has been touring around the world since the 1960s, thrilling audiences with their energy and seemingly effortless performances.
The New York Times gave the dancers a glowing review, calling the performance “a celebration of ability, the sheer pleasure of competitive creativity, and…more virtuosic than sentimental.”
During the show the dancers focus their energies on their large drums, which were carved from the D’umuvugangoma tree—a name that translates to “the tree that makes the drums speak”, according to the program the Burundi dancers gave to Columbia Arts Management, Inc.
The drums become the center of the performance as the dancers perform their percussion pieces while dancing around the stage.
Executive Director Betsy Fitzgerald said that the event is kicking off two new series at the Grand Opera House: a variety series and GrandKids, an educational program geared toward schoolchildren to expose them to cultural events to which they might not otherwise have access.
“For many of them, it’s the only time—if ever—that some of these kids will walk into the opera house,” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the Tuesday night performance, the Burundi dancers will perform for the GrandKids program on Wednesday and Thursday, dancing in two performances each day at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. for schoolchildren from elementary to high school.
The two morning performances, which are targeted toward students from Macon’s elementary, middle and high schools, are the first of many future events of the same nature.
Fitzgerald said that the GrandKids program aims to be more than just a school outing; it is meant to complement what they are learning about in school.
“They attend the performance, but the education doesn’t stop there,” Fitzgerald said.
“We prepare and provide lesson plans and worksheets according to standard curriculum to make the experience go beyond just going on a field trip.”
In addition to the two new programs, Fitzgerald hinted that other opportunities might arise for high school and college students to get involved with the Grand.
She gave few details other than to say that the potential program will be a sort of “ambassador” position and will provide “a wonderful way to build [the students’] resumes with community involvement” by working with a quality venue like the Grand Opera House.
“We provide the same level of programming that you would find in any metropolitan area, and we’re able to have that right at our backdoor,” Fitzgerald said.
According to the website, tickets for the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi performance are $9 for college students.