The annual Spring Loaded festival for up-and-coming choreographers – “Where dance is going next” – got off to a stimulating start with a programme by Tavaziva Dance. Director Bawren Tavaziva hails from Zimbabwe, and his African-influenced style and subjects show that he carries his home in his heart. In the taboo-busting Sinful Intimacies, chants and drums squarely place the scene in Africa, where we see two women having sex. It’s stylised but enthusiastic: they writhe and pump, flip places, tangle their legs. A more combative central section gives way to cigarette-sharing, then more sex. You can understand why: it looks damn pleasurable.
Kenyan Athlete, Tavaziva’s homage to the beauty of strength in action, is the choreographic high point. Anna Watkins, supported by two men, skims the floor in long, slow runs. Everton Wood dives earthward, Ingrid Abbott coils and throws her torso, and Amazonian Amanda Lewis rolls her body around its own joints. Distinctive and direct, the piece combines tensile power with exactitude. The women are especially strong, but the following piece, Silent Steps, by guest choreographer Harriet Macauley, makes their energies feel underpowered: the action is gutsy, but the focus is vague.
No such problem with My Friend Robert: it’s Mugabe, played by a masked Wood. Dance doesn’t often “do” politics (it’s better at forms and feelings), but Tavaziva cuts to the quick: he sets the scene in a voiceover, telling us the words we hear are interviews with his fellow Zimbabweans. Now he can deal with emotions. Air-punching jubilation gives way to desperation, grief (a mother gives birth, then buries Aids-infected bodies), and finally to vengeance as the unmasked Mugabe is lynched – an uncanny echo of an earlier scene of mob violence. The overriding feeling is not of bitterness or betrayal, but of endless tragedy.