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Friday, May 3, 2019

Rwanda Gets the Spotlight at DanceAfrica 2019

By David Hsieh

When this year’s DanceAfrica opens at the Howard Gilman Opera House stage on May 24, audiences will see a dance tradition that has never been presented in the 41 years of this treasured festival—the dance of Rwanda. It will be the fulfillment of Artistic Director Abdel R. Salaam’s longtime dream—using the festival to expand our understanding of African dance and demonstrate the healing power of dance.

“The first dance I learned from Chuck [DanceAfrica founder Charles Davis] is Intore,” said Salaam. “It is a warrior dance from the East/Central African region. I believe Chuck learned it from Burundi dancers. Then a few years ago I saw a video of women doing the same movements. I was surprised. Because as far I knew, Intore could only be danced by men. I did some digging and found out this is from Rwanda, and no, they’re not doing a men’s dance. But there are shared movements.”

So for DanceAfrica 2019, Salaam went to Rwanda to see Inganzo Ngari, a dance troupe that has mastered traditional dances. “This is a group that has all the professional touring experience and can put on a show that is fairly representative of Rwanda dances,” said Salaam.

Created in 2006, Inganzo Ngari (“wide talent”) aims to promote Rwandan culture through traditional dance and music. The company’s Technical Director Serge Nahimana said that Rwandan dance differs from other African dance “by the rhythmic movement of the whole body, and the way of symbolizing many things with the arms, all done in a harmonic style.” Although like all African dances which are full of energy and vigor, Rwanda’s is also famous for its slow and soft movement, such as Umushagiriro.

Traditionally, men and women have different dances. This is because the movements depict the daily work of men and women, who have different roles in society, as Nahimana explained. For instance, Umuhigo is a hunting dance for men. Inkoko shows women winnowing sorghum and other cereals. The dance Inkangara is named after the big basket women use to carry food and drink. But Nahimana points out that there are shared movements, which explains the confusion that Salaam encountered in the video.

Since taking on the responsibility of DanceAfrica’s artistic direction, Salaam has presented dances from Senegal, Guinea, and South Africa. Rwanda brings in another tradition: East Africa. But besides expanding the scope of dance presented by the festival, Rwanda also fits into Salaam’s belief that music and dance can heal wounds and unite people. Twenty-five years after the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, Salaam said that “everywhere we went, Rwandans no longer divide themselves as Hutus, Tutsis, or Twas. They are just Rwandans. They have rebuilt their society, created one of the fastest economic growths in Africa, and they are understanding and reconciling with their past in a new light.”

Music and dance, Salaam said, played an important part in that process. “Rwanda is another living example of a people who have gone through a very difficult time. But able to examine themselves, make change, and to use the art as ways and means to transform and regenerate.”

To deepen understanding of contemporary Rwanda, BAM will also collaborate with Shared Studios to create a public “Portal,” adjacent to the DanceAfrica bazaar. It is a self-contained space where audience members can enter and have a realtime video chat with Rwandans living in the capital Kigali on topics ranging from gender equality, to green initiatives and reconciliation.

BAM’s Vice President of Education and Community Engagement Coco Killingsworth said, “Shared Studios have installed Portals all around the world, which really take people beyond the headlines to connect with each other. We are going to have some curated topics as well as spontaneous discussions. Our audience will see contemporary Rwanda from Rwandans’ points of view. And Rwandans will also see how their dance and music are received in Brooklyn.”

Of course, some of DanceAfrica’s old favorites will return, including the bazaar, FilmAfrica, a kids’ film, a dance party in the BAMcafĂ©, art, classes, and more. Ago, Ame. See you on Memorial Day Weekend!

DanceAfrica 2019 will be at BAM May 18—27.

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

Photos: Inganzo Ngari, courtesy the artists

© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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