Volume 76, Number 5 | June 21 - 27 2006

Dancer is riding high after recovery from anthrax

By Bonnie Rosenstock

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel
Lisa and Vado Diomande before his performance in Midtown earlier this month.
In his first public performance since recovering from anthrax, Vado Diomande wowed the overflow crowd at the High School of Art and Design Theater on E. 57th St. on June 10, with an exuberant, life-affirming dance on mountainous stilts. Accompanied by the electrifying rhythms of three drummers, members of his Kotchegna Dance Company, Diomande, masked and covered from head to toe in colorful African regalia personifying the West African god of the sacred forest, hopped, jumped, gyrated, twisted and cartwheeled as if his life depended on it. Which apparently it does.

In a preshow interview, the soft-spoken Diomande, 44, who feels uncomfortable with words, said that he felt fine, “because I’m performing today. It’s like food for me. I did not eat long time. Now I will eat today. I don’t talk a lot. My body talking for me,” he declared in broken, heavily accented English.

Diomande’s wife, Lisa, seconded the motion.

“He’s very, very excited,” she said. “He’s been really dying to get back to work. I shouldn’t say ‘dying,’ ” she laughed. “He’s been living to get back to work.”

The occasion for Diomande’s dazzling dance display was the Djoniba Dance & Drum Centre’s annual Dance and Drum Festival, a fundraiser as well as a showcase for the school’s students to show off their talents in dance styles as diverse as African, Brazilian, Cuban, Haitian, salsa, belly dance and hip-hop. Since its founding by Djoniba Mouflet in 1993, the nonprofit cultural organization, at 37 E. 18th St., has provided dance scholarships for more than 800 children from shelters and low-income families. However, a portion of the recent benefit will also go to support Diomande.

Mouflet is from Martinique, but grew up in Senegal, and has known Diomande, who is from the Ivory Coast, since he first arrived in New York eight years ago.

Diomande planned to teach the following day and get back to his full schedule.

“A week after he was released from the hospital, he was back drumming with us five days a week,” noted Michelle Mitchum, the dance center’s marketing director. “He’s an amazing man. He was in top physical condition before he took ill, and I think he’s just driven,” she said.

Diomande, who was felled with anthrax in February and spent more than a month in a Pennsylvania hospital, finished his medication treatment two months ago. His therapy these days consists of taking dance classes and working privately with several physical therapists. He and Lisa have been living with her brother and his wife in Jersey City since his release. They are looking for an apartment in Brooklyn with a backyard in order to keep his drum-making business at home because they can’t afford the rent on two spaces. His decontaminated windowless workspace in Brooklyn was cleared out.

Their possessions are in storage or still in their abandoned Village apartment at 31 Downing St. The landlady has been very kind and hasn’t asked for any money, Lisa Diomande said.

“But we haven’t gone back yet because we don’t have space to put the apartment stuff,” she said. “There is still some furniture, books, pots and pans that have been heavily bleached that I have to get out of there. We don’t know what is salvageable. Maybe after a couple of months of sitting there the bleach will have worn off,” she said hopefully.

Many of Diomande’s costumes were destroyed by the fumigation, but others, along with his drums, were salvaged.

“At least it was an attempt to help him by the decontamination company [Tradewinds], which was overseen by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,” said Lisa Diomande. “There was a lot of pressure brought to bear to save Vado’s costumes. He got them all back.”

However, Vado Diomande is quite upset that he lost many things that his father gave him that he had hoped to pass on to his future offspring.

“It’s the things that have no price, because it’s spiritual,” he said. “They took masks, lots of stuff that I bring here. Now everything gone,” he lamented.

As far as they know, D.O.H. hasn’t found the source of the anthrax. Speculation is it was in the four goatskin hides that Diomande brought back from the Ivory Coast or possibly the cowhides he purchased from a local New York supplier or some still unknown origin. Lisa Diomande said they are planning to file a Freedom of Information Law request to get the results of all the tests. In addition, they have filed notices of claims against the city, the state and D.O.H. for “reckless and wanton conduct, gross negligence — actually a whole paragraph of legal terms,” she said, and are looking for lawyers to represent them. Hearings are expected in July.

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