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The initial plan had been to review No Exit, as that was a theatre script that was familiar, it would’ve been interesting to see how it was translated through modern dance. Opting to attend the performance of Nora Chipaumire was certainly no second prize though. Her one woman show called Chimurenga, meaning ‘struggle’ was, in a word, fantastic. It had the ability to transport an audience from St. John’s, Newfoundland to small and untouched corners of nature in Africa.

The show is a three part presentation with an incredibly dynamic soundscape that is a clash of nature, “civilized” modernity, and cultural expression. Even the stage was designed beautifully. Chipaumire started stage left between two small piles of rocks, the three of them framed in a rhombus of light. Behind her, up stage right, was a delightful mobile of different shapes and sizes of handmade African bowls, with one sitting on the stage next to the massive cluster. For the majority of the first act, a video projection from Californian composer and filmmaker Alex Potts lit up the black brick wall behind the art piece representing African culture like an elephant in the theatre. This juxtaposition is what ultimately communicated what the show was going to be about.

Nora Chipaumire in Chimurenga

Nora Chipaumire in Chimurenga

Chipaumire was born in Mutare, the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe – boasting only a few thousand more then St. John’s. She now lives in self-exile as a result of the war and second revolution that she was born into and Chimurenga is an unapologetic and assertive expression of what life was like, what was lost, and cultural preservation. It was a privilege to be taken to Africa with Chipaumire on a journey that showed raw personal struggle and protection of identity in a world where the technological pace towards modernity is sometimes crushing.

Most of the movements throughout the first act were circular and repetitious, but presented almost in a choral round. She would swing her arm left to right in front of her then pull and rub the fabric of her shirt on the right side. It was almost like she was perhaps washing clothes in the Mutare River. She mixed this in with glimpses of an African dance she would later show to the audience in its entirety. At one point in the first act under dimmer lighting, Chipaumire knelt down to the small pile of rocks and moved them around frantically, running her hands through them then stacking them up and allowing their clamour to contribute to the African drums and sounds.

Bridging into the second act she sang in a native language that instantly brought the Métisse song Boom Boom Ba to mind, mainly because that too has African lyrics and let’s face it, it’s not a language often heard – but it was so beautiful. Chipaumire not only sang through a blackout, she did so while changing on stage. The first act saw her in a top and pants style outfit and she was in a dress for both the second and third acts, though the colour changed from black to red during her second change.

The second act of the show was the conflict, the soundscape introduced a modern song with rapped lyrics and dance movements became sharper, harder, even aggressive. Chipaumire at one point stood on one leg and put the other directly up in the air and moved her arms as if she was running. The perspective was like a bird’s eye view, looking down at her below. When the intense movement stopped, she stood down close to the audience and cried out that she was a child of trauma, a child of repression, and a child of revolution among many other things. Then she broke out in to the chorus of the African dance, showing a little more of it this time, literally as well as she’d pulled down her dress and was bearing her chest, bearing her soul.

The final act left the chaos behind and the stage was lit with nature gobo’s, splashing leaves and light through the tree tops onto the stage. Chipaumire went to retrieve the bowl and held it on her head in a blood red dress. The mood that she was communicating through movements was completely opposite to what had been seen prior. In this act she performed a dance that seemed a little familiar. It only became obvious when she reached a point in the dance that she’d shown the audience a glimpse of before. The performance had a superb and beautiful crescendo that was very enjoyable to sit back and watch as the story unfolded. It was clear that so much thought had been invested into the performance that represented triumph and survival in more ways then one.

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August 2020
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