Umkhathi Theatre Works set to rock UNWTO, Intwasa Arts Festival
Umkhathi Theatre Works rocked the stage on their recent month long tour of the United States and are set to rock the UNTWO and Intwasa Arts Festival in September. The New York Times and many other distinguished United States. publications gave them rave reviews on their recent tour.
“The most stunning entrance came from Umkhathi Theatre Works of Zimbabwe: a marvelously silhouetted procession across the front of the stage, with some dancers tilted forward like horses and others seated on them like riders and waving fans like whips. Suddenly all the lights came on and the dancers burst, electrifyingly, into the three-dimensional life of “Setapa.”,” wrote Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times. “The power of the group’s music making was overwhelming; it felt like an unstoppable force. Drums, feet, claps, ululations and whistling overlapped with amazing rhythmical intricacy — all impossible to resist”
Umkhathi’s plaudits are not undeserved. They are a powerful ensemble in terms of their interpretation of all the dances that are found within southern Africa. This is an understatement though. It is a sight to behold to see them perform the muchongoyo or setapa dances. Thus it made sense to me for the organizers of Intwasa Theatre Works to include them in their lineup for this year’s festival. Umkhathi after all, are the Chibuku Neshamwari traditional dance competition regional representatives to the premier national dance competition and this would be the second time. The ensemble first represented the region in 2011.Incidentally they were placed second at the national level in the self same year.
Umkhathi is by no means a light weight group. They have twenty years of experience in their field. The Financial Gazette’s Admire Kudita sat for an interview with Matesu Dube the group’s artistic director and main choreographer for an interview about their U.S. journey and twenty year trip to the summit of dance.
How did you get the U.S. gig?
Sometime in August 2012, Papa Chuck (Chuck Davis the artistic director of Dance Africa Festival) and Nick Schwartz of Brooklyn Academy of Music came here to audition for a group that would take part in Dance Africa festival in 2013. They auditioned a lot of groups here in Bulawayo and fortunately they came up with Umkhathi.
How was the excursion?
“It was a different kind of performance that we rendered in the States. It was a great experience for the group. We were the only group from outside of the US. We performed in Denver, Colorado, Brooklyn, New York and Washington DC. It meant a lot for us as we broke new ground and showcased our dance to a totally different audience.
How so? How was the audience different?
We’ve been to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and we’ve been to Scotland. In the States the audience was very appreciative because we brought very unique type of performances. They are used to West African traditional performances over there. In West Africa, the dancers are females and the males are the musicians. With our performance we incorporate everyone.There is music, as in singing, as well as drumming which is not like they are used to.
As founder of the group, you have come a long way. How did the group begin?
The group was started in 1997 shortly after school with Young Warriors Theatre in Njube Township. The director of Young Warriors Norman Takawira got a job with ASSITEJ in Harare and had to relocate. The group was left without a leader and it went into oblivion. With some of the members of the group we came up with Umkhathi Theatre Works because we said “we have been trained, why don’t we carry on?” There were seven of us all male and then we incorporated women who were in the juniors of Young Warriors.
Did you have the sense elokshini that you were going to make a living out of it as in paying your bills and who was your example starting out?
You know elokshini you have everyone, people going to college, thugs, nurses, teachers, doctors and soccer players were more of course. We managed to get people who were playing soccer to join us! First you have the passion in this field and then you work hard and then you get paid later. Of course there was Amakhosi, Iluba Elimnyama and such big groups whom we emulated.
When you look back to when you started and it has been twenty years. How do you feel?
I am no longer dancing now. For an organization to move forward one needs to take care of the administration. I am into that and the artistic side which is choreography. I miss dancing but someone has to do it (administration).