Scenes from the riveting dance drama, KIU, which draws inspiration from the ancient African Rain Dance, indigenous to the Bolobedu people. Pictures: Sanmari Marais

After its most successful run at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, choreographer Mduduzi Nhlapo’s KIU returns to the State Theatre for a much-anticipated home season.

KIU is a ground-breaking work in which Nhlapo consolidates an authentic African dance aesthetic.

It is unreservedly African, both in its themes and in its physicality. 

Different to the often ambiguous nature of Afro-contemporary dance, in which Western contemporary dance techniques have become integral, Nhlapo explores authentic traditional African ritual, which he embellishes with guttural organic movement to produce a vocabulary in which references to foreign techniques are simply superfluous.

In KIU (the Swahili word for “drought”) Nhlapo ingeniously employs the reverence of an ancient African traditional belief system and its poignant cultural significance to arrive metaphorically at universal truths about human prosperity.

KIU draws inspiration from the ancient African Rain Dance, indigenous to the Bolobedu people, also known as the Lovedu.

Scenes from the riveting dance drama, KIU, which draws inspiration from the ancient African Rain Dance, indigenous to the Bolobedu people. Pictures: Sanmari Marais

Nhlapo describes the Modjadji’s mission as a spiritual uniting of people.

This attainment of her is consecrated by the tribe’s ancestors in the delivering of rainfall.

However, the Rain Queen is met by a state of spiritual dystopia, manifested in acts seated in strife, greed, pride and jealousy, the very roots of drought.

KIU is a plea for rainfall. Within this plea, Nhlapo emphasises the need to return to the self, to a place of spiritual integrity.

Nhlapo’s organic, creative approach to his choreography and its merging with the meticulously crafted Afrocentric musical tones by composer Thapelo Shosana, makes for riveting theatre.

His troupe of dancers and musicians consummately embody the spirit of the work.

When F Graeme Chalmers comments that “the timeless purpose of all art is perhaps to enhance our sense of being, not only here and now, but also in a continuum of time and traditions”, he refers to a pluralistic art world in which the appraisal of a dance can only be done in consideration of the idiosyncratic characteristics of a particular culture’s perspectives of and purposes for that dance.

KIU is emblematic of culture-specific art.

As the only white person in a jam-packed audience, I ask myself, will we learn from each other through the magical mentoring that theatre offers, or is cultural authenticity necessarily segregated?

That would be a pity.

IOL