Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence
Arena Stage Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Topdog/Underdog, Long Way Down and Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

The Cast
Photo by Jadi Lindsay
The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, the work by Step Afrika! now in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage, offers a vivid and one-of-a-kind viewing experience. Inspired by painter Jacob Lawrence's 60-panel "Migration Series," the performance uses rhythmic, percussive dance movement to animate the period in the early 20th century when millions of Black Americans left the rural South to find jobs and personal freedom in the industrial North.

C. Brian Williams founded Step Afrika! in 1994, forging a unique choreographic style from traditional African dances, step dancing as practiced at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and contemporary artistic influences. The Migration Series also has a Washington connection: half of the paintings are on permanent display at The Phillips Collection, with the rest at New York City's Museum of Modern Art.

Harlan Penn's scenic design incorporates several video screens above the stage on which projection designer Jarkari Sherman displays individual Lawrence paintings, either in full or focusing on specific details. Kenann Quander's costume designs document the changes from an African village before the arrival of foreign ships, through rural communities coping with enslavement and finding relief in church, and the changes that follow arrival in crowded cities.

The program does not name the specific performers in each sequence, but some sing or play instruments (mostly various types of drums, but also strings and brass) to accompany the group choreography. The dancers impress with their commitment to their roles and the sense that they are communicating stories unfamiliar to many in the audience.

The visual images are striking and never less than engrossing to watch. Field workers harvest crops as a propulsive unit; a church deacon takes his time in a solo dance as he prepares to lead services; crowds pile into railroad stations upon their arrival in Northern cities; three newly arrived men dance jubilantly on the street, using their suitcases as props; women whose husbands have gone on ahead convey their yearnings through outstretched arms and elongated bodies.

The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence runs through July 14, 2024, at Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, Kreeger Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit

By Step Afrika!
Directed by Jarkari Sherman
Founder and executive producer, Step Afrika!: C. Brian Williams
Artistic director, Step Afrika!: Mfoniso Akpan

The Company:
Kenneth L. Alexander, Nya Christian, Jerod Coleman, Ariel Dykes, Keomi Givens Jr., Leander Gray, Jordin Greene, Kamala Hargrove, Briona Jackson, Nepri James, Terrence Johnson, Agyei Keita-Edwards, Conrad Kelly II, Lionel D. Lyles II, Abdou Muhammed, Isaiah O'Connor, Na'imah Ray, Valencia Springer, Ericka Still, Brie Turner, Joseph Vasquez, Pelham Warner Jr., Robert Warnsley, Greg Watkins, Kanysha Watkins