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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dancing for Zimbabwe

Love for her native Zimbabwe drives expatriate choreographer Nora Chipaumire in the stinging "Lions Will Roar, Swans Will Fly, Angels Will Wrestle Heaven, Rains Will Break: Gukurahundi," now receiving its world premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Painstakingly designed and quietly performed, the piece obliquely addresses the Matabeleland Massacres of the early 1980s.Like a pocket-size "Fela!" -- Bill T. Jones' tribute to Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti opening next month on Broadway -- "Lions Will Roar" is packed with music and dance. It also features groundbreaking Zimbabwean musician-poet Thomas Mapfumo, who plays onstage throughout the 75-minute piece with three other Blacks Unlimited musician-singers. Chipaumire's muscular story, which she dances with Mallory Starling, has a clear trajectory, though few words are spoken. A prologue of breathtaking video animations brings to life a journey from birds and trees to horror, followed by Chipaumire's faux-cheery "tour" of Zimbabwe. Her grounded solo takes us back to the country's agricultural roots; Starling's takes us into the dark, circumscribed depths of its demise; and their duet restores an ambiguous, qualified order and sense of pride.The score is trance music -- and this is trance dance. Chipaumire's potent, sinuously twisting body and alive face are a story in themselves. There's little African dance per se -- at least the customary showbiz kind. But the spirit of African dance is everywhere: its reverence for the Earth, open joy in movement, and honoring of musicians and the power of music.The subdued ending of "Lions Will Roar" unfortunately leaves out the dancers. But this remains a small jewel about a country whose conflicts are no less significant because they no longer make headlines.

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