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Disappeared performers force show's cancellation

By Rebecca Missel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 12, 2000
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Centennial Hall will refund tickets for 'The Mandinka Epic'

Seventeen of 28 members of the Ballet d'Afrique Noire disappeared in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday afternoon, forcing UA Presents to cancel its Friday night performance of "The Mandinka Epic."

"It stinks. I'm furious with them, but I sympathize with their illusions of this country," said Jane Hermann, vice president and director of dance for the company's representation.

After an evening show, the performers - mostly from the West African nation of Senegal - were expected to board their buses at noon. When more then half the group did not arrive, managers waited 40 minutes and then called the central office in New York who contacted the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Services.

"It's not a defection because they have not attempted to put themselves at the mercy of the United States government," Hermann said. "They just disappeared."

Three more performances of "The Mandinka Epic" had been scheduled, and Hermann estimated their losses between $50,000 and $100,000.

"I still haven't calculated it all - hotel rooms, cargo, airline tickets - I can't be accurate," she said.

Hermann said she believes that other international management groups would adopt more "stringent" rules for performers as a result of the disappearance.

"We will do our very best to let them know that to run away is not wise," she said.

As of yesterday, 891 tickets to "The Mandinka Epic" at Centennial Hall had been sold, all of which must now be refunded.

"Because it's such short notice we have to call everyone," said Ken Foster, director of UA Presents.

He estimated that 95 percent of the people could be reached by phone, but for the remaining 5 percent, ticket sellers will be available at the Centennial Hall Box Office.

"It's a big loss in terms of time, and we should wash out financially, but the biggest loss is in what promised to be a great performance," Foster said.

In addition to canceling Friday night's show, a performance for 2,500 local school children was also called off for Friday morning.

"For the kids and teachers the amount of investment lost is most unfortunate," Foster said. "They have worked in the classrooms, learning the art and dance - this was to be the culminating piece."

Local choreographer Barbea Williams was supposed to lead a discussion on West African music and dance before the show. When she received the news of the disappearance she was "in shock."

"Why would they do something like that?" she said. "It's strange to me."

Williams said there is a large Senegalese community in the United States, and she doubted there were political reasons behind their escape.

"Maybe this particular group has baggage or something we don't know about," she said. "There is something more than meets the eye."

In October, "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk," was scheduled at Centennial Hall - they could not perform either but gave three months' notice and producers were able to replace them.

"This is the first time we've had a cancellation because of vanished performers," Foster said. "It says a lot about the worldwide economy."

According to the CIA's international factbook, Senegal is currently having problems with persistent unemployment, juvenile delinquency and drug addiction. However, Hermann thought the performers left for more personal reasons.

"The only thing we assume is that there are friends or relatives helping them," she said. "They could not do this without assistance."

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