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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.

originally published April 2008



A line in the press release read, “it is abandoned and joyful, intimate and tender,” not only is “it” those things but it’s also touted as “flirting with obscenity” and “notoriously adventurous,” the latter from Toronto Life magazine. With all those condensed words in just the opening paragraph, instantly you would think – this is a show that has to be seen.

So what is “it”? It’s a show that’s been travelling abroad and through Canada that included a stop at the LSPU Hall. Neighbourhood Dance Works made the jump to bring /DANCE/SONGS/ to St. John’s in partnership with a Toronto based production company. The show is the latest creation of Artistic Director Ame Henderson who has worked with under Public Recordings which she created “in 2004 as a vehicle for the production and dissemination of performance work of an interdisciplinary nature.”

It’s a perfect fit for Henderson who says that /DANCE/SONGS/ is “a dance in the shape of a rock show,” which sounds like something Bjork would think up. The clash of two typically dissimilar art mediums that are separated by their differences; and sure enough when I was presented with the visual feast it was indeed a clash of sound, dance, and video but there was some twisted beauty within that complete chaos. Henderson has combined them because of their differences, disrupting “the dance concert with wit, energy and excess,” just like a good ‘n proper rock show.

There certainly had to be a lot of pent up energy in the performers. The show features Chad Dembski, who was nominated for a Dora Award for Best Performance, along with Claudia Fancello, from Montreal who has worked on a number of Henderson’s shows. Rounding out the cast very distinctly is Matija Ferlin who is originally from Berlin, Germany and seemed to be meant for /DANCE/SONGS/. It is without question a physically demanding performance leaving its cast looking as though they’d been put through the ringer by the end. Smiling between each song, it’s evident that they love what they’ve created and snap into other versions of themselves immediately at the first tone, note, or noise of the soundscape behind the next performance.

Henderson also recruited Eric Craven. He’s the guy behind the music – ever so important for a show based in dance shaped like a rock concert. That was recognized by the Toronto Alliance for the Performance Arts at the 2006 Dora Awards, where Craven got a nomination for his contributions to /DANCE/SONGS/. Some parts of the soundscape had touches of a Daft Punk flavour which really worked for me as well as the more mellow pieces and the interesting ways that sound was used. A mic being put entirely in one performer’s mouth to make a repeating and rather grotesque noise is one example coming to mind. Admittedly, part of me was distracted thinking about how unsanitary that was.

If there was any critique to be made it would stem from that wondering of my thoughts in that there were perhaps some things that carried on for a little too long. It would be fair to say that /DANCE/SONGS/ is not for everyone. It is a show that is more interpretive than most, even for a dance production. It was incredibly organic which really worked for the show and there were times that it was difficult to determine if the performers were either constantly in character or if they were all just really being themselves as members of a band would be. Sometimes it seemed like something that was a living art piece, like I was really in an art gallery, not a theatre.

A highlight was a piece introduced as Milk Carton, which seemed to have the most dictated ‘story’ being told in the song. It was communicating the idea of being lost, missing people on the sides of milk cartons. Also of note was the piece where the three performers did yoga-like manoeuvring up against the raw back wall which was flooded with a live video close up shot of what was going on. In fact the live video was consistently interesting and almost added a fourth presence on stage. Daniel Arcé, who directed the live shots, added a new dimension by showing the audience things up close and extremely personal.

The show is meant to be that way and Ferlin directly spoke to the idea of personal space before introducing a piece at one point. Not to mention the fact that the stage was set up in a round with seats on the sides as well as in front and as if that wasn’t getting close enough, the performers told everyone to pull their seats up as close as possible for the encore. It without a doubt gave a different experience being closer and did make it all the more interesting.

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August 2020
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