Dancing the diaspora

Footsteps across Canada

Presented by Dance Immersion

Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto

February 26 and 27, 2016


Geographically and stylistically, the six dances in the Dance Immersion concert embraced a wide African diaspora. Taken together they made a strong connection to Mother Africa and in several cases referred to a struggle for equality that goes on in the new world.

Montrealer Rhodnie Désir, accompanied live by percussionist Ronald Nazaire, performed BOW’T, a work that uses the imagery of a perilous journey across the ocean to express the longing for the homeland and the yearning for freedom. Désir’s strong West African-influenced choreography made her message clear.

A video projection of a seashore with rolling waves established a similar theme in Liliona Quarmyne’s Tide. The Nova Scotia performer danced to the music of Amadou and Mariam and manipulated a long white cloth to reveal a narrative of celebration and imprisonment, joy and concealment. A dancer whose face is covered is dehumanized and that seemed to be the point of what Quarmyne was saying about the historic African experience.

Two to see, four to reason is a quartet created by Rodney Diverlus, a Haitian-born dancer now based in Calgary.  Dressed down in big t-shirts and tight pants, Natasha Korney, Carina Olivera, Edgar Reyes and Diverlus had at each other, talking, shouting, pushing and gesticulating to music that included the blues of Bessie Smith and the big band sound of Benny Goodman. The dancers are all exuberant movers and the piece nicely bridged the divide between social and concert dance.

A solo by Toronto dancer Mafa Makhubalo, Songs of the Soil, was performed against a backdrop screening clips of South African students protesting high tuition and excerpts of an interview with South African martyr Steve Biko. There was something about a healing ceremony and Makhubalo’s submersion in the water contained in a galvanized steel tub certainly referred to cleansing. But his vigorous dancing could have meant anything, really.

Percy Anane-Dwumfour and Lauren Lyn, Daniel Gomez were dressed in white with appliqués of brightly coloured Ghanaian fabric. Anane-Dwumfour spoke a lot about the struggles of a man who finds after moving to Canada that he no longer feels at home in Africa or his new country. This piece, choreographed by Esie Mensah, could have been more effective without the speechifying.

Mikhail Morris, a Jamaican-born Toronto dancer, made a scary figure in long braids and a black mask over his face. With his features mostly obscured, he performed his solo Dichotomy, again underscoring the dilemma of the immigrant of African origin. What face are you proud to present to the world?

Photo: Liliona Quarmyne in Tide

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