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Bawren Tavaziva

'Gule Dance'

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

September 11, 2003 -- Jacksons Lane, London

I saw Bawren Tavaziva's "Gule Dance" at Jacksons Lane 11 September 2003. "Gule Dance" finds its inspiration in the Gule Wamkulu (Great Dance). This dance is performed by secret societies of the Chewa people in Zimbabwe, Africa. It is performed as a memorial service in celebration of the life of a dead elder. Performed mostly at funerals, the dancers embody spiritual forms that guide the dead to their resting place. Tavaziva's dance, though, seems to have two stories to tell: the despair in finding a spiritual resting place and competition between spirits.

There are three spirits and one deceased. Navala Chudhari as the deceased is dressed in tattered black clothes while the spirits are dressed in tattered, tawny clothes; all designed by Munyaradzi Makosa. The music is composed by Tavaziva and begins with a brief explanation of the event. Kialea-Nadine Williams dons a white female-like mask, Jake Nwogu an orangey mask and Theo Ndindwa wearing a red mask. There are also straw amulets. The straw amulets double as masks and are handled in a sword or shield like manner. The masks the spirits wear through most of the dance indicate different personalities -- two males and one female. These gendered differences have no bearing on their interactions.

The deceased seems in despair as she moved, especially when she encounters the spirits. The spirits seem to cajole and intimidate the deceased as much as they rankle with each other. The spirits confront, jest, and compete amongst themselves as well as perform tangled spacial paths and lifts with the deceased. All three spirits had a slightly different dynamic that figured in their relationship to each other. Whether standing or in a characterised stance or moving, all were different in character or tested each other's resolve.

As the dance ends, Williams dares the other spirits with the amulets that lead to a group movement. Chudhari joins the male spirits doing the same moves as Williams makes her passage spiritually as she moves with a slow deliberate stride across the back. This movement metaphor seemed to suggest that Chudhari's spirit had made a choice and found its resting place with the elders.

The dancers have that Tavaziva mergence of contemporary dance with articulation of the spine, that Tavaziva walk and jumps that have an aerial-type affinity. There is groundedness here though proving the dancers can soar as well as slip into the earth with ease.

What we have in this dance is not a quote from the traditional dance of the Chew people or a theatricalisation of a sacred ceremony. An exploration in the amalgamation of sensibilities, Tavaziva's work is a collection of impressions, sensate recollections of the research work he has done in Zimbabwe and will continue to do, in Malawi and Mozambique. This work is also an indicator of the movement vocabulary Tavaziva is refining; the language through which his art will speak. It is an Africanist aesthetic, urban somehow, and not appreciably from any one particular African tradition. Its root though traverses the sacred and the secular, Europeanist and Africanist theatre and movement techniques, mixing emotion with strong contemporary dance skills.

Jacksons Lane is an intimate space and perhaps there are several reasons that made the dancers seem confined by the space. This did not deter the exuberance in their performance. The waver between two story lines and the music being a bit loud at the beginning may have been confusing for some. Irrespective of this Tavaziva's aesthetic is strong and well on its way to fruition.

Edited by Toba Singer.

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