The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: 'Infinity and Beyond' - Expressive Arts Piece

On the evening of October 26, Protest Arts International Festival (PAIF) was officially opened by a highly engaging performing arts programme featuring a South African one man drama -- "Itsoseng-My Township-My Home" by Omphile Molusi. It was spoken word-poetry performance; stand-up comedians; a traditional music band and a combination of dancers and actors in a piece called "Infinity and Beyond".

This programme that blended different arts genres was an excellent example of a highly commercial and viable collaborative performing arts package that should be a regular feature in our entertainment industry.

It is vital that this viable performing arts package is analysed adequately and its attractive uniqueness exposed so that entertainment promoters can be enticed while performing artists are shown the advantage and viability aspects of such collaborative performing arts package.

The first components of the collaborative arts package constituted the opening -- the Infinity and Beyond -- a 20-minute expressive performing arts piece delivered through a careful mixture of ballet, hip-hop dance, physical theatre and music.

Each of the performing art forms used was allowed to carry a portion of a story portraying a vivid historical image of contemporary socio-economic and political atmosphere in Zimbabwe.

The story of the piece centred around a young man and young woman who meet at Mbare Musika and fall in love.

But while enjoying their love life, they are suddenly separated by "Operation Murambatsvina" just before their son is born.

The two lovers reunite nine years later and commit themselves to starting where they left.

The two and members of the Mbare and Highfield communities' face socio-economic and political challenge that obviously enormous but which cannot subdue them.

The community expressed through the captivating images of street vendors, factory workers and even miners and the highly creative and enterprising individuals who turn challenges into opportunities and emerge victors in a situation where other people would have thrown in the towel.

The story is a critical observation of the challenges individuals in urban settings meet, what they do to make sense of the challenges and some of the actions they take to confront what they see as unwanted development.

These actions are carried out in a manner that shatter some peoples' lives and end up looking like violent actions.

"Infinity and Beyond" was designed and directed collaboratively by Jimmy Makurumbandi and Lloyd Nyikadzino and featured 12 dancers from Mbare comprising two freelance dancers, three members of the National Ballet and seven members of a hip-hop dance group.

The piece has a defined segment of ballet, which introduces the two, Peter Lenso and Chido Mukundwa.

In a short period of 20 minutes it is difficult to portray such a complex human story especially when pre-dominantly using non-verbal media and very intricate moves such as mime.

More so, physical theatre that may not easily translate the intended characters and dramatic situations in the incidents around operation Murambatsvina.

This is so especially when the uniqueness of attractively used theatre forms may draw away mental concentration to the story being told.

This was demonstrated by the highly active and physical theatre scene portraying the dramatic events around the handling of the people during the operation.

It drew the attention of the audience and may have overshadowed the plight of the young woman separated from her lover giving birth in a lonely and depressing place.

The physical theatre dimension; the music and dialogue scene, the hip-hop dance moves; and the ballet physical dialogue rendered to Michael Jackson's "I will be there" and to Dolly Parton's "I will Always Love You" rendered by that memorable and emotionally dramatic voice of Whitney Houston; the gumboot dance and the straight mime and dialogue drama were all weaved into a beautiful piece of art.

Lloyd Nyikadzino explains the intricacy of "Infinity and Beyond" by saying that one of the driving forces in creating the piece was his desire "to see how certain components of physical theatre can be combined with other theatre forms to craft a wonderful piece of great art.

"We sought to tell a story that was indigenous but with an international appeal- a story that everybody in the audience could relate to.

"We were concentrating on revisiting and reconstructing our past as a nation so as to negotiate our future as a people."

Probably, if the piece hand been entitled "Operation Murambatsvina" most members of the pre-dominantly artistic audience would have managed to read the entire thread of the story.

Some members of the audience indicated that they had difficulty in locating the story and in relating to events that took place, as the actual event is not of a recent topical past.

Nyikadzino further explains a fundamental characteristic of this piece as protest art when he says: "When people protest, they do not assemble in their offices and envision what their future will look like.

"They stand up and express their worries in what they consider the most appropriate way.

When they we devising "Infinity and Beyond" were not so much concerned about what others were devising but focused on their uttermost feelings and expressed them in a way we thought would augur well with the audience."

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