Dada Masilo’s The Sacrifice

Sadler’s Wells, London
February 24, 2023

Dada Masilo implants wisdom between the laughs as she weaves her heritage Tswana dance with contemporary in this highly enjoyable production. Masilo’s work is about healing after the trauma and losses of the Covid years and the spirit of this short work, just 65 minutes, lingers and feeds the soul. We in the West have so much to learn from Africa and in The Sacrifice, Masilo shows us the way.

There is a sacrifice and a death, but they are grounded on an acceptance of mortality. Ancestors, the power of the earth and above all the presence of the community are central to the piece. The work is skilfully structured, flowing intuitively to its inevitable climax, strangely bereft of the cruelty of Stravinsky’s Sacre.

Masilo is first to appear, traversing the stage her mobile torso and eloquent arms tracing her choreography grounded in traditional Tswana dance. She seems to be set apart, an individual within the community. However, the ties to the group are clear as a party atmosphere develops. The mood is joyous, swift footwork driving the rhythms. Masilo leads from the front with infectious laughter and shouts to the musicians sitting side stage. The earth-coloured dresses and trousers swirl with the thrust of hips revealing a flash of vivid red underlayers. The dance only stops when the dancers beg for a breather.

Ann Masina and Dada Masilo in The Sacrifice
Photo John Hogg

The mood becomes more solemn, Ann Masina’s powerful voice effortlessly filling the theatre and providing ballast while the men display virtuosity in floorwork that blends heritage African and modern contemporary. The commissioned score, created alongside the dance is composed and performed by Masina with Leroy Mpholo, Tlale Makhene and Nathi Shongwe. The array of Western and African instruments and the versatility of the players is impressive as the music alternately drives, carries or rides on the emotion in the narrative.

The turning point comes when Masilo, alone on stage is presented with the lily, a symbol of death, and after initial reluctance, she takes the single stem. The costumes change to loose white trousers, torso’s bare, revealing the beauty of the naked bodies. The atmosphere darkens and the mood intensifies. The dance is ecstatic, the dancers living in the moment and giving their all, fierce but without violence. The path is chosen and must be walked.

The final moments offer quiet resignation: a celebration of life and a recognition of its transitory nature. Four men lift Masilo on high and carry her to Masina, the mother figure who envelops her childlike frame with a love strong enough to accept the sacrifice. This sacrifice does not have the dramatic intensity of Stravinsky’s work but instead, in the pain and the sorrow the human spirit triumphs as dancers, all carrying lilies, kneel in obeisance.

Dada Masilo’s The Sacrifice is on tour to April 12, 2023. Click here for dates and venues.