Chore­og­ra­pher speaks uni­ver­sal lan­guage

African troupe com­mu­ni­cates via a va­ri­ety of voices

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Holly Har­ris

IN an age when so­cial net­work­ing, dig­i­tal chat rooms and in­stant mes­sag­ing are read­ily ac­ces­si­ble with the mere click of a mouse, it’s per­ilously easy for any sense of per­sonal iden­tity to get sub­merged by all the cy­ber-bab­ble. Mozam­bique-born dance artist Casimiro Nhussi, 49, has some­thing to say about that, as his 11-year-old com­pany NAfro ex­plores the idea of “voice” in his new­est pro­duc­tion, Sauti. The show, run­ning through Sun­day at the Gas Sta­tion Arts Cen­tre, in turn, is a lit­eral trans­la­tion in Swahili for “voice,” one of the poly­glot dancer/chore­og­ra­pher/artis­tic di­rec­tor/teacher/mu­si­cian’s eight spo­ken lan­guages. “There’s al­ways a voice that comes out of our hu­man bod­ies, whether it’s through move­ment, singing or danc­ing,” the ef­fu­sive Nhussi ex­plains dur­ing an in­ter­view. “That voice is al­ways there, even if we don’t use words.” The for­mer prin­ci­pal dancer/artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Mozam­bique Na­tional Song and Dance Com­pany ar­rived in the city 16 years ago and even­tu­ally founded Western Canada’s only pro­fes­sional African con­tem­po­rary dance com­pany in 2003. The six-dancer troupe presents two pro­duc­tions each year, with its next show slated for late Fe­bru­ary. Each pro­gram hosted by Nhussi be­comes an ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated, in­ter­ac­tive “event,” with its loyal fol­low­ing all too ea­ger to bang on hand drums or shake their booties on­stage af­ter each per­for­mance as part of the troupe’s joy­ous, fi­nal rit­ual com­mu­nity dance. Those same fans might re­call see­ing an ear­lier in­car­na­tion of Sauti staged in Oc­to­ber 2008, fea­tur­ing chore­og­ra­phy by Nhussi and Cal­gary’s Michèle Moss. Nhussi as­sures that this is an all-new pro­duc­tion that of­fers two new, unique and wholly dis­tinc­tive world pre­mières by BaKari Ifase­gun Lind­say, co-founder of Toronto’s Col­lec­tive of Black Artists (COBA), and Zab Maboungou, founder of Mon­tre­al­based troupe Ny­ata Ny­ata Dance Com­pany. Renowned as the pi­o­neer of African dance in Canada, Maboungou wowed au­di­ences last Novem­ber with her ar­rest­ing solo De/Lib­er­ated Ges­tures dur­ing NAfro’s am­bi­tious Mov­ing In­spi­ra­tions Fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing its 10th an­niver­sary. Her lat­est cre­ation, Noise, per­formed by com­pany dancers Hélène Mancini, Ni­cole Coppens, Paige Lewis, Alexan­dra Garrido, Alexan­dra Scarola and Ard­ley Zo­zo­brado ex­am­ines the idea of pri­vate “space” that we each seek to carve out for our­selves in a noisy, dis­trac­tion-filled world. The ab­stract, 15-minute work with live ac­com­pa­ni­ment by Nhussi and per­cus­sion­ist Tim Church show­cases the chore­og­ra­pher’s idio­syn­cratic move­ment vo­cab­u­lary based on her own de­vised “rhythms and move­ment” tech­nique, as a com­bus­tion of African tra­di­tional dance with con­tem­po­rary influences. “I have let my­self be in­spired by the NAfro Dancers and the fact that Casimiro gave me com­plete carte blanche to cre­ate a new piece with them,” Maboungou says in an email. “So with mu­sic (‘noise’) and move­ment, I tried ar­rang­ing prob­a­ble and im­prob­a­ble en­coun­ters in space, while at the same time, com­ing out with spe­cific dy­nam­ics where ‘noise’ be­comes ‘mu­sic.’” The pro­gram’s sec­ond pre­mière, Lind­say’s Yoòbu-Carry (Wolof), set to mu­sic by Terry Ri­ley and Tir­lok Gurtu, of­fers its own take, with the 28-minute con­tem­po­rary en­sem­ble work ex­plor­ing “emo­tional trans­for­ma­tion through phys­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion.” The Trinidad-born artist, who stud­ied with New York City’s fa­bled Alvin Ai­ley Amer­i­can Dance The­ater and teaches at Toronto’s Ryerson Univer­sity, also ap­peared at the NAfro fes­ti­val last year in his trio Cross Cur­rents, a kalei­do­scopic show­piece of per­cus­sive move­ment where its three dancers seemed to morph into one liv­ing, in­ter­con­nected or­gan­ism. “The first time I saw his piece (in re­hearsals) last sum­mer, I said, ‘Oh yeah,’” Nhussi says with a grin. “His mes­sage is very clear in what he wants, and is say­ing, and re­ally suits the idea of ‘sauti.’” Be­sides of­fer­ing its unique blend of African and con­tem­po­rary dance, NAfro pro­duc­tions have be­come equally known for their rafter-shak­ing, live mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment that also in­cludes Nhussi per­form­ing with the on­stage, nine-piece drum band. The mul­ti­tal­ented artist is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly known for his own orig­i­nal mu­sic; he was re­cently nom­i­nated for a 2013 Western Cana­dian Mu­sic Award (World Record­ing of the Year) for his sec­ond al­bum, Gweka. Be­fore that, he re­ceived another nom­i­na­tion in 2010 for his in­au­gu­ral al­bum, Makonde, an ex­pe­ri­ence that he found emo­tion­ally over­whelm­ing, as it val­i­dated another of his many cre­ative di­alects. “This is the be­gin­ning of the next chap­ter,” the in­de­fati­ga­ble artist states proudly. “I par­tic­u­larly chose th­ese two chore­og­ra­phers be­cause I want to keep cul­ti­vat­ing my au­di­ence to ap­pre­ci­ate dif­fer­ent types of African con­tem­po­rary dance,” he adds. “Voice is our iden­tity. And be­cause we are hu­man, we all have dif­fer­ent voices. We need to cre­ate space. We need room for all th­ese voices to be heard.”

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

NAfro Dance’s lat­est pro­duc­tion, Sauti, means ‘voice’ in Swahili and ex­plores the ways we ex­press our­selves.

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