Patchwork but Persistent
Canada Dance Festival 2004
by Philip Szporer, Kaija Pepper, Katherine Cornell, Bridget Cauthery and Marie Claire Forté
Ottawa: June 3-12
"Nsamu" by Zab Maboungou & Compagnie Nyata Nyata
Friday, June 11
National Arts Centre Studio Theatre
Perhaps what is universally acknowledged of Zab Maboungou's performances is her level of commitment: when she enters the stage space, you cannot take your eyes off her. The Montréal-based performer of modern African dance is undeniably commanding: she is centred; she is here.
Maboungou, who is of Franco-Congolese origin, has performed and studied with various Congolese ballets in Europe and America. Since immigrating to Canada in 1973, she has turned her attention to learning the traditional dances of Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Nigeria and Zimbabwe while continuing to enlarge her knowledge of the art and music of her native Congo. Her chosen metier is modern -- as in evolving, new, challenging -- African dance for the concert stage.
A work of abstract movement, in "Nsamu", Maboungou plays with the themes of time and place. Nsamu means "the subject of debate" in Maboungou's father's native Kikongo and, true to her other vocation as a philosopher, Maboungou played interlocutor to her fellow performers. Maboungou's "Nsamu" was a clean, crafted, eloquent performance for solo dancer, two musicians and art installation. Design artist Chryso Bashonga collaborated with Maboungou's Compagnie Nyata Nyata and lighting designer François O'Hara on the creation of a metal and raffia sculpture seated on a Plexiglas light box covered in sand. The piece, called N'tchak, was inspired by traditional textile art of the Congolese Kuba region.
Maboungou conceives of her theatrical elements in equal parts and no one component is any more or less integral to the overall work. Although her interaction with the set piece was minimal -- she made dancing footprints in the sand that were then lit in brilliant primary colours from below -- her movements around the stage retained a sense of reverence for the installation. Maboungou's dancing was rigorous, tightly choreographed, but also allowed for the traditional call and response interplay between instruments -- dancer, musicians and drums.
Equal to Maboungou's virtuosic dancing, musicians Dominic Kofi Donkor and Tiya Muaza Mudada (dit Moto) were nothing short of tremendous. Playing a range of exquisitely amplified traditional African drums and percussion instruments, their performance provoked and extended Maboungou's choreography. Rarely is the cash-strapped world of independent dance able to afford musicians of Donkor and Moto's calibre and Compagnie Nyata Nyata should be commended for bringing such talent to a national festival.
April 25, 2005
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