By Moira de Swardt: The only international piece in the Dance Umbrella is superb.
Nigerian choreographer/dancer Qudus Onikeku who is now living in France, effectively in “exile” from the country of his birth, brought a beautiful work to Africa's largest and most important dance festival. Entitled “My exile is in my head” this work is sophisticated, slick and wonderfully enjoyable. The choreographer's intention was to deal with personal questions of home, belonging, non-belonging and exile. In a country where we have both a big expatriate community and xenophobia runs riot, literally and figuratively, through our society it is interesting psychologically to go on this journey with him.
While the use of video projections of shadow work and “words” is not new to Dance Umbrella audiences, this one is particularly well done. The lighting can only be described in superlatives and it combined to work with the video projections so well that I was somewhat surprised, on checking my programme, to discover that they were done by different people. Video conception was by Isaak Lartey and lighting by Guillaume Fesneau. The opening scene particularly, was eerie and mystic and it was the lighting which gave the work its neo-nascent appeal.
The use of the dance space was fascinating. The front left of the stage (to the right of the audience) was reserved for the musician (Charles Amblard) who performed original music on a Hawaiian lap steel guitar. The musician and dancer worked in dialogue style, the way Spanish dance accompanists do with their dancers, and Amblard never took his eyes off Onikeku. It was beautiful to watch.
The dance was filled with angst, beauty, resignation, acrobatic moves, deeply controlled moves, high energy and a spirituality that was summed up in the voice over “When I dance I am closer to God”. I know this was true because when Onikeku danced I, too, was closer to God.
The Dance Umbrella runs at various venues around Johannesburg until 6 March 2011. This performance was at The Dance Factory.
Moira de Swardt