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Bawren Tavaziva - 'I Am Home'

Progress of an artist

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

November 19, 2004 -- Robin Howard Dance Theatre, London

Kumusha "I am Home” presented 19 November 2004 at the Robin Howard Dance Theatre (The Place) in London was the presentation of Bawren Tavaziva’s most successful dance works to date. “I am Home” presents cross cultural, intertextual inspirations: Tavaziva’s Zimbabwean heritage with its particular sacred and secular dance practices merging with his African and British contemporary dance experience. Being both a choreographer and composer, instances in Tavaziva’s lived experience become the starting point to transform recollections and past memories into movement and music for the dance works presented in “I am Home". Tavaziva’s vivacious transliterations of African movement and rhythms interfacing with contemporaneous dance practices make “I am Home" a noteworthy performance. This performance signals the emergence of a new and vibrant choreographic voice in the British dance community.

Bawren Tavaziva made his choreographic debut in 2001 with State of Emergency’s The Mission tour. This success brought a further commission, "Tsika", for The Mission presented at Sadlers’ Lilian Baylis Theatre 29 March 2003. Though a non literal dance, "Tsika" is Tavaziva’s contemplation on the atmosphere within the beer halls of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. One believes from Tavaziva’s choreography that the beer halls are communal statuaries where people gather to meet friends to, confide in or share information. Tavaziva with his choice of lighting constructs a closed, private and secure space where a community of people find the power to persevere.

The movement with its playful, expressionistic antics seem a metaphor illustrating how movement and music become a cure-all for people with limited agency. The music for "Tsika" is inspired from Kandindo, a form from Zaire that was developed in Zimbabwe, and reggae music. "Tsika" was somewhat modified for its presentation at the Robin Howard Dance Theatre 19 November 2004. For this performance "Tsika" still enthrals with its playful jumps and rolling duets with interjections of social dance. Tavaziva’s music compositions accompany his particular kind of contemporary dance; a mesh of vertical and horizontal lyrical designs and phrasing that show the dancers are as exceptionally skilled at jumping, performing inverted moves on hands and chest as performing more conventional moves like attitude turns and pirouettes. Tavaziva’s movement vocabulary is a measured balance between body rolls, sequenced staccato leg gestures, lyrical lines and has both balletic and postural attitudes. "Tsika" ends with dancers in the upstage right corner. Tavaziva along with doing the music and movement also designed the lighting for this dance work. The image he creates, with its off stage shaft of light poses a question: who is out there beyond this community statuary? What’s out there that could disturb or interrupt the play?

Tavaziva's presentation for Jacksons Lane's Zone 3 on 11 September 2003, Union Dance Company having a longer version of "Tsika" and recently a section for "En-Trance" for ACE Music and Dance Company. In Jacksons Lane Zone 3 and for Royal Opera House 2 Summer Collection 2004 at the Royal Opera House, Tavaziva presented "Gule Dance". These three performances were successful in providing the practice needed for Tavaziva and his dancers to cultivate the Tavaziva aesthetic. These performances, though, suffered from an obscured vision losing that finely etched “line through” that assists responses and answers to questions posed by the proposition of a dance work. The proposition shapes or is shaped by the dance maker providing the focus and intention of a dance and giving the dance its reasons for being. Movement language and composition strategies are chosen to facilitate this reason and to provide a dance work with a singular vision. Tavaziva seemed to loose his way with these works, glutting the work with so many movement ideas that the works seemed a collection of dissimilar pieces or, in the case of "En-Trance", just adding to an already tangled plot.

"Gule Dance" was also presented on the Robin Howard Dance Theatre (The Place) 19 November 2004. The Place performance is a further evolution of this dance work and a more reified performance for the dancers. "Gule Dance" finds its inspiration in the Gule Wamkulu (Great Dance) 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. The version presented at The Place was neither a narrative nor a re-presentation of the Chewa people’s Great Dance. It is diffused and non-literal with characters entering and exiting, having some interactions but still no real distinctions to indicate who the main protagonist is. Non-linear and non-narrative, this composition presents conflicting elements that rupture the notion of linearity in its performance. It would seem Tavaziva is developing a propensity for presenting a collection of separate ideas strung together with a chosen combination of movement language and compositional devices.

What we have in "Gule 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, "Gule Dance" is a collection of impressions, sensate recollections of the research Tavaziva has done in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique. With "Gule Dance" Tavaziva traverses the sacred and the secular, Europeanist and Africanist theatre and movement techniques, creating for his audiences emotive, viscerally visual, movement experiences. Like a visual artist Tavaziva literally paints the stage with movement.

As with "Tsika", the dancers merge contemporary dance with an Africanist articulation of the spine that is recognisable as a Tavaziva way of moving. There is full body hypermobility unlike the classical body with its stiff spine and hypermobile limbs, and an aerial-type affinity and groundedness that enables the dancers to jump effortlessly or slip into the floor with ease. "Gule Dance" is an indicator of the movement vocabulary Tavaziva is refining; the language through which his art will speak. It draws on its Africanist and European sources, is urban, and contemporaneous.

"Mystic Chant" was a duet performed by Tavaziva and Keisha Grant at The Place 19 November 2004. This work is as much an affirmation Tavaziva’s political sensibilities as a representation of his primary inspirations in the reggae culture and spiritual affiliations he has with young people living in the townships of Zimbabwe. This dance work like the others is non literal presenting a collection of thoughts described threw movement revealing what is of significance to Tavaziva. "Mystic Chant" is a movement metaphor describing viscerally this program note: “If you are a conscious person then you have to motivate other people in the same way.”

With its low centre of gravity, legs that shoot out at any point, to the side or behind whether standing or in a low lunge the movement language of "Mystic Chant" carries a postural attitude, a bodily narrative that insinuates dramatic inferences and physical references. It is in the performative act that the dance signifies what is meant and felt in the text by the dancers. Garnett Silk provides the music for this dance work providing the bass line and lyrics for Tavaziva and Grant to ripple spine, snap heads, deep knee bends to fall to the floor, with an occasional arabesque and hip ripple. "Mystic Chant" seems unfinished but still an indication of Tavaziva’s evolving aesthetic. With this work Tavaziva is similar to those modern dance practitioners who use dance as a vehicle to present what is politically or socially relevant to them -- what is culturally significant and therefore representative of something heartfelt or experienced. Tavaziva presents dance works that illustrate his vision of what dance means in the world and how the world can be revealed through his particular choice of movement and music.

As a finalist for the Place Prize Tavaziva choreographed "Umdlalo kaSisi". This work presented at The Place 19 November 2004, as all the others aside from "Mystic Chant" is performed by Navala Chaudhari, Yamuna Devi Chaudhari, Keisha Grant, Jake Nwogu. Tavaziva joins his dancers in this work. "Umdlalo kaSisi" takes its inspiration from the death of a loved one. It is a non literal dance performed in a stage landscape coloured in a manner to indicate the mood portrayed through Tavaziva’s lush movement vocabulary. Costumes designed by Abigail Hammond are of reds and beige and doubled as lapas, head scarves, and mourning clothes. The lighting designed by Tim Speechley focused on intricate ensemble work or textured the surface creating an intimate space intensifying this vision of heart felt introspection.

The dancers begin in an ensemble grouping upstage right with torso enveloping and supporting as dancers jump and fall, move in and around the grouping. Tavaziva’s chosen movement language for this work creates images of amity, reconciliation, and remembrance. Tavaziva’s music also surrounds the mood with its recollection of the ceremonial, consoling with voices that welled, mourned and soothed. There doesn’t seem to be a central figure but at the end a single female dancer is singled out. Moving downstage left she is enclosed in light as well as having the other members of the ensemble positioned around her. Her moves are refined and etched in a way that indicates a kind of contained power. Her movements twist and turn but the spatial is in a kind of stasis as if she is confined, unable to escape the shaft of light that encases her. The image seems to suggest a memory or presence, a remembrance of a vibrancy now gone.

"Umdlalo kaSisi" is a good work indicating Tavaziva can follow through, hone and sharpen his vision. Tavaziva’s proposition for this work was followed through with focus, intensity and clarity of purpose. Like "Gule Dance" and "Tsika", "Umdlalo kaSisi" ruptures the notion of linearity in its performance by presenting a collection of separate ideas strung together with a chosen combination of movement language and compositional devices. "Umdlalo kaSisi" is also emotive with its particular viscerally stimulating movement sequences exhibiting successfully the choreographic accomplishments this choreographer has made to date. The British dance community now waits in anticipation of next year’s tour of Tavaziva Dance Company.

Edited by Jeff.

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