Zimbabwean dance group blooms bold at Arts Festival

20 May 2015

Saying a resolute #NotToXenophobia by their very presence at this year’s National Arts Festival, Zimbabwe’s leading dance company Tumbuka will be staging a production that explores the “Zimbabwean self, focusing on the masculine presence, through dance, movement and space”.

South Africa’s biggest arts event runs from 2 to 12 July in Grahamstown. Portrait of Myself as My Father was co-created by New York-based Zimbabwean performer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire in 2014 when she visited Zimbabwe as part of a research tour of four African cities supported by the New York Live Arts Suitcase fund.

Since the company’s inception in the early 1990s under the dynamic leadership of British choreographer Neville Campbell, Tumbuka have been making bold and passionate statements. Narrated through a uniquely Zimbabwean movement vocabulary that is at once vigorous, energetic and direct, they have tackled social issues ranging from the AIDS struggle, to Rwandan genocide, to first-hand accounts of the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe.

“With contemporary dance you can talk about anything in life,” says Tumbuka dancer Mathias Julius. “Any issue that we need to talk about, we do.”

“kuTumbuka” is a Shona word meaning “to flower or bloom” and this is a company that truly lives up to its name. Tumbuka rose to international acclaim in the 1990s, touring extensively throughout Africa and Europe. But the company almost collapsed in the early 2000s, with the withdrawal of donor funding and many of the country’s leading dancers leaving for elsewhere.

Undeterred, they have battled on under impossible circumstances to keep dance alive in Zimbabwe. They return to the National Arts Festival this year with fresh energy following a winning performance of Portrait of Myself as My Father at the Johannesburg Dance Umbrella in February.

“Chipaumire spent two months in the studio with the Tumbuka dancers in a research process that explored Zimbabwean movement and identity, the culmination of which is a 50-minute work for 10 dancers and three musicians,’ says Tumbuka Dance Company spokesperson Anna Morris. “She donated her work to the Tumbuka repertoire in an effort to help us emerge from a decade of difficulty and re-establish our identity as a premier African contemporary dance company.”

In Portrait of Myself as My Father, Chipaumire “celebrates masculinity, male presence and representation, the black African body and performance”.

Breaking through the current fearful climate of xenophobia to bring Grahamstown audiences the best of contemporary Zimbabwean expression, Tumbuka’s performances at this year’s National Arts Festival are bound to be heartstopping.

Source: Mational Arts Festival