“Astonishing”, “amazing” and “stunning” were just some of the words buzzing through the audience at the end of Tavaziva Dance’s performance of Sensual Africa at the Pegasus Theatre on Friday.
One phrase that was not used was “out of this world”. And with good reason: inspired by Zimbabwe-born choreographer Bawren Tavaziva’s 2011 trip to Malawi, Sensual Africa is an unequivocally rooted piece in which the dance emerges organically from the culture and sounds of the Tumbuka and Chewa tribes. Sometimes this was a response to the rhythm of the everyday: the call and response of a children’s game, the anxious cackling of chickens, even the crying of a baby. At other times the pace and mood were determined by wooden percussion and, best of all, drums, which shifted the dance from the everyday to the celebratory and the dramatic, sometimes disturbing, world of the ritual.
Sensual Africa is not traditional African dance, but original modern dance inspired by particular African cultures in which the blending of dance, music, costumes and light reflect both the place of dance as an integrated part of traditional African culture and the very contemporary Western concept of fusion art. The young dancers of the Tavaziva company gave a fluid, energetic and emotionally nuanced performance, particularly in their exploration of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, one of the pieces’ major themes, inspired by initiation rituals.
One last set of superlatives must go to drummer Douglas Thorpe for his mesmerising drumming. It doesn’t seem quite right to call this a performance: it was something altogether more intense. This was, perhaps, partly due to his use of a mask (another link to initiation), which would not have been out of place in a Greek tragedy. Unable to see his face, the audience focussed on the drummer’s hands as they danced across the drums whose subtle, compelling voices seemed to enter into the fabric of the building.
Tavaziva are continuing to tour the British Isles with Sensuous Africa and plan to return to Oxford next year. The details of their current tour and where they'll appear next can be found on their website.