It has become a given for dance choreographer Jonas Byaruhanga to shuffle his Keiga Dance Company performers at their annual Dance Transmissions Festival (DTF) appearances. Exclusive To No One featured a new crop of (six) dancers, most of them rookies displaying wet-behind-the-ears contemporary dance talent. Their piece was an indicted on an ivory tower notion at Makerere University, Uganda’s top tertiary institution. It’s the one where students pursuing “nobler” courses like medicine, engineering, law and journalism looked down on their contemporaries pursuing careers in the arts.
“Musiru Ddala Ddala” (vernacular for extremely airheaded) is the stigma those pursuing programmes at the university’s Music, Dance and Drama department have to carry around. In the Keiga piece, the protagonist is a high school boy asserting his desire to be a dancer. The antagonist is the society that forces prospective dancers into more lucrative blue/ white-collar profession represented by the colourful garb and lingua franca synonymous with these so-called noble professions/ occupations.
It’s a tough call for the dancer in a society where the pursuit of a university degree is a rite of passage. Commoditised tertiary education means employment prospects override passion-driven occupations. But Byaruhanga does little to rescue weak dance execution by glossing it over with his superior dance technique. He could as well have done a solo with everyone else as a mere prop. Thankfully, there was renowned Latino dancer Sam Ibanda and So You Think You Can Dance (Holland) contestant Shafique Ssegayi to smooth over the stiff dancing by music video dancers amongst the Keiga pack.
Japan’s Testsuro Fukuhara’s appearances are also becoming a DTF cliché. His choreography is hard to digest for audiences at a nascent dance showcase. He put on a solo piece Space Dance this year. Last year, he literally danced in space, squeezing his portly frame through a [stretch] cloth tunnel hoisted above the audiences’ heads in the auditorium and ending on stage. This year, he came off as a fraud eliciting more conversation about his gender (the bald-headed dancer has a thing for wigs) than his Kung-fu-like routines. But then again it could be that the Butoh technique is not for baby formula audiences that saw it as nothing but a comic display of what dancing at zero gravity may look like. He utilised the entire breadth of the stage all-right but his music grated on the ear.
South Africa’s Mhayise Productions, Dayimanei gave DTF a worthy finale to the three-day festival. The cow-horn formation from Shaka Zulu history comes to mind in this homage to the legacy of the Nguni cattle. The female dancer literally wears cow horns on her arms in this hybrid multimedia dance theatre genre that is set around a cow dip.
A corset worn above a cow skin dress that ends in a tutu; choreography that infuses video projection, recorded soundscapes, music, live percussions and drumming; this male/ female duo was right on the money in enchanting the audience with izibongo, physical theatre and movement within the frame of an African yet contemporary dance theatre performance!
The post-festival conversation should now shift to the sustainability of DTF, which has now anchored itself as one of two showcases for contemporary dance in Uganda. It is a nascent festival, which should strive to create a well-oiled contemporary dance machine despite its glaring funding challenges (much of the support for this year’s festival was in kind). How about Byaruhanga looked at the raw talent on NTV’s Hotsteps Season IV reality dance TV show? After all some of today’s fine [contemporary] dance talent came out of Season I; Rainmark Escriva (a dance tutor in Sweden), Antonio Bukhar Sebuuma; Phillip Buyi now with Tabu-Flo Dance Company and Rosemary Atim.