August 20, 2020
In the art of dance, Africa, so often exploited and badly treated, comes into its own. Africa has never lost its connection to dance and is beating a successful path into the twenty-first century with pioneers like Moving into Dance. who fuse African and contemporary dance on a level playing field.
Everlast, a solo performed and choreographed by Eugene Mashiana, opened the programme. While the work has only a peripheral engagement with the chosen subject: the dehumanisation of labour, Mashiana gives a spellbinding performance. He is never less than totally in the moment, immersed in the movement arising from an inner pulse, played out in easy rhythms and startling bursts of energy. The only prop is a sturdy wooden box as versatile as the dancer himself and used in a variety of ways, all backgrounded by Olafur Arnold’s brooding score.
The company’s second offering, Oscar Buthelezi’s Road, performed by the choreographer and Shili Muzi is another gem. Taking the simple concept of two travellers on a road, the highly inventive movement is woven into a structure as complex as life itself.
The detail is carefully crafted in the intriguing range of sounds in Taboo Gilbert Letele’s score, in the slapping of bodies or the wind in the trees. The effective use of space: minimal but never unproductive shows a well-developed understanding of theatre but the genius is primarily in the dance language. An eloquent conversation in the opening ripens into a meeting of minds as the two men develop from a give-and-take dialogue to synchronised virtuosity and a melding of bodies in close contact partnering. It’s a work that engages on a very human level then holds your attention through brilliant craftmanship.
Dunia Dance Theatre founded in Brussels in 2001 presents Making Men a filmed dance work that finds original expression as it crosses boundaries in so many ways. The quiet autobiographical voice-over, it switches to fiercely intense movement set in the savannah grasslands of Zimbabwe. Harold George identifies dance as the least masculine of artistic activities, then choreographs movement to celebrate the physical energy and prowess of his team of male dancers. Beauty is strongly in evidence, but the work is undoubtedly masculine in its drive and focus.
Sierra Leonean choreographer, George, works with filmmaker Antoine Panier to create this masterpiece in muted earthy colours. In the duet, the camera, positioned close on the dancers, frames the bodies with startling intimacy seeking out their very souls before a sudden cut to the everyday routine of a bathroom shower. The water pours over George’s urban body while the images of man in nature and mythical horned beasts haunt his brain. In the bush, boys move through initiation, into first intimacy before finally achieving manhood. The closing quartet, a daring juxtaposition of barren, rolling hills and Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus, is breathtaking. The four men, Tatenda Chabarwa, Tinashe Jerry, Peter Lenso and Carlton Zhanelo write poetry in the sand as bodies move in harmony or are lifted to fly through the air, before they quietly disperse.
The beauty of the African landscape, this time Uganda, is also featured in Abdul Kinyenya’s Twete (Free ourselves). His solo is raw and powerful, danced first barefoot on the rocks then shifting, on a rapid, insistent beat, to the water’s edge. Kinyenya is totally at home in the beauty of his natural surroundings. It’s a rare treat and something to be treasured in an age when we are finally starting to value our environment.
A dance theatre work by Phumlani Nyanga, Thina (We), was the final offering performed by Luthando Arts Academy who combine educational outreach with performance. It brought us back to an urban environment as a family, symbolised in the close-knit group at the opening, are driven apart as personal issues are played out in movement and drama. They form new allegiances finding unity in dance sequences with a ripple of tension holding the work on course.
Interestingly, in a predominantly male programme, the only two female dancers appeared in this final group of eight. Africa has produced important female dancers and choreographers, for example Dada Masilo and Nelisiwa Xaba, and I would have liked to see more diversity but it’s a small gripe in an otherwise exceptional evening of talent.