Whoever you are, by virtue of the fact that you exist, you have a father. He might not have raised you. He might not be alive any longer. He might have been the source of sadness or horror, happiness or love. This is not one father we see reflected in Nora Chipaumire’s dynamic Portrait of Myself as my Father, it’s every father.
Danced by members of Zimbabwe’s foremost dance company, Tumbuka, the work embraces the theme of masculinity and fatherhood without slipping into the didactic or obscure. While the narrative is not completely clear, the dervish-like dance constructs designed in a diptych format will sweep you away completely, leaving you exhausted but exhilarated.
The nine dancers lope quietly into the auditorium, dressed in an approximation of men’s suits and bare feet, onto the stage like a troupe of ghosts. There’s a focused sense of efficiency in this work which takes place on a stage covered with soft red sand punctuated by a single shaft of square light: the boxing ring.
The dancers never teeter into this space: lending it a sense of the ineffable, the sacred. Its role in the masculinity narrative is not unpicked and it remains a glorious mystery in the work, that you don’t need to understand, but something that your eyes and mind keep reverting back to.
Catherine Douglas is cast in contradistinction to the rest of the company: she alone articulates the second half of the diptych and while we’re never given the reasoning behind the discrepancy between the two sides of the work, this dancer, physically shorter than the rest of the cast, carries the weight of the whole work with a sense of dignity and authority that makes it really hard to pull your eyes from her. It’s quite an astonishing feat: the movements she makes are not as flamboyant of those of the rest of the cast; they’re humble and gestural, and while you’re wowed by the speed and cohesion of the men and women in the company, you’re silenced by Douglas.
Further to that, the work features live music interplayed with piped music and truly delicious things happen in the Zimbabwean and European sounds that are cast together and allowed to flow through the work. If you listen carefully, you can hear jazz riffs and musical phrases from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. You can hear contemporary dynamics knitted together against a backdrop of Zimbabwean chords.
Arguably, up there with Rachel Erdos and Sunnyboy Motau’s fight flight feathers f***ers and Mamela Nyamza’s Wena Mamela as this Dance Umbrella’s unequivocal jewels, Portrait of Myself as My Father sweeps you on the back of a kaleidoscope of dance values, constructed with a mature sensibility and a developed love of the discipline. Hopefully this country will get to see more of Tumbuka’s work, more of Chipaumire’s material and certainly more collaborations between Tumbuka and Chipaumire.
- Portrait of Myself as My Father is originated and choreographed by Nora Chipaumire. It is danced by Ndinei Alfazima, Maylene Chenjerayi, Catherine Douglas, Snoden Filimon, McIntosh Jerahuni, Alexio Matambo, Chido Mukundwa, Stanley Wasili, Caroline Yule and Carlton Zhanelo, from Tumbuka Contemporary Dance Company and musicians Fatima Katiji (voice/hosho), Tatenda Mapaso (guitar) and Sinyoro (hosho). Directed by Anna Morris, it features design by Chipaumire (costume and set); Philip White (sound) and it performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until March 8.