Soweto-born Vincent Mantsoe treads with a regal stance, his walking stick morphing into staff, spear and stake. He then hovers intently before unleashing his contained power into whiplash spins and detailed flurries of steps.
Barena (Chiefs) is part of Moving Africa, a triple bill of contemporary dance from companies from south, east and west Africa. Mantsoe is gripping to watch, but Barena also has a potent, though understated narrative drive. From his confident beginning, Mantsoe becomes riven with anxiety, trembling with suppressed rage against enemies as invisible as the allies he seems desperate to find. In an unsettling sequence, he flails and gasps against the sound of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie, as if this serene wash of European music were unwittingly lashing his spirit. In the end, he reasserts his upright bearing, brought to his knees but unbowed.
he flails and gasps against the sound of Erik Satie's Gymnopédie, as if this serene wash of European music were unwittingly lashing his spirit
Mpirahalahy Mianala (Several Form One), by Madagascan company Rary, is more beguiling than grand. A simple wooden frame becomes a doorway, a table, a bus and a boat as the four dancers strike statuesque but sensuous poses, flamingo arms held softly from their curving trunks. Their elastic jumps and supple torso undulations are accompanied by live percussion and zither, and the instrumentalist joins in their convivial games. The piece has a human scale and a very light touch, and the dancers’ sweetly unassuming performances are enchanting.
By contrast, Figninto (The Torn Eye), by Burkina Faso company Salia ni Seydou, is all tension and foreboding. The three male dancers are alienated, gazing unseeingly into the space around them or covering their faces with their vests. This is the most overtly theatrical piece of the evening and the only disappointment. It is too disjointed and too cryptic to sustain interest, despite its varied pacing and bruising physical risks. But the programme as a whole is fresh and illuminating, a rare and very welcome window on the diverse contemporary dance coming out of Africa.