Portrait of Myself as My Father
Portrait of Myself as My Father

Dance production unravels Zimbabwean identity

By Eugene Yiga Time of article published Jun 23, 2015

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

Indeed, now that the Zimbabwean dance company has used their work to tackle social issues from the Rwandan genocide to HIV/Aids, they’re set to explore even more at the National Arts Festival this year.

Portrait of Myself as My Father was co-created by New York-based Zimbabwean performer and choreographer, Nora Chipaumire, last year when she visited her home country as part of a research tour of four African cities supported by the New York Live Arts Suitcase fund. The play marks the first time she’s collaborated with the company and the first time her work has been researched and developed in her native land.

“Working with her was so inspirational, as she is one of the top solo dance artists in the world,” says Maylene Chenjerayi, assistant director of Tumbuka Dance Company and winner of the Zimbabwean National Arts Merit Award for Best Female Dancer last year. “She has worked extensively around the theme of the black, African, female, dancing body. This is obviously something I can relate to completely.”

But Portrait of Myself as My Father looks at the male body and masculinity and the role of the father. More specifically, the work explores the “Zimbabwean self, focusing on the masculine presence, through dance, movement and space”. It also “celebrates masculinity, male presence and representation, the black African body and performance”.

“During the choreographic process the dancers were asked to consider the idea of father: if they had a father, if they were a father or if, as is in Nora’s case, they did not know their fathers,” Chenjerayi says.

“What kind of father would they dream up for themselves? It’s a bit like playing dress-up; like a child who puts on their father’s suit and then acts out his way of walking, his way of moving.”

The production was staged at the Joburg Dance Umbrella in February.

“The reception of this work has been interesting,” Chenjerayi says. “It plays on several levels. For those who understand contemporary dance, I think it is the craft of the work that draws them in, while others relate to what they recognise about how Zimbabweans dance, the music, the gestures, the way we party.”

Ultimately, she believes the piece explores a Zimbabwean identity. More than that, by staging Portrait of Myself as My Father at the National Arts Festival, Tumbuka asks audiences to consider who they (and we) are.

“Zimbabweans are often defined by their politics and those kinds of difficulties, but underneath all that we are people,” she says. “I think this piece shows you that.”

l Tumbuka performs Portrait of Myself as My Father on July 3 (1noon, 4pm) and on July 4 (noon, 8pm) at the Alec Mullins Hall, Grahamstown. R65 to R70 at www.nationalartsfestival.co.za.

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