What is contemporary dance? Is it not just another form of western art? Why is it taking long to catch on? These and many questions pop up whenever contemporary dance is mentioned around those not familiar with it.
But not for the East African Nights of Tolerance, which held its eighth weeklong edition in Kigali.
Like many such shows, the festival was preceded by a workshop — facilitated by Laura Vanhulle and Johnny Autin from the UK — before it climaxed into three days of performances at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village.
Thirteen participants from six countries had the stage to themselves.
These included Muda Africa (Tanzania), Yawa Dance Company (Kenya), Dancer’s Image and Dance Theatre Uganda (Uganda), Utin DT (UK), Fire Dance Company (the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ndaro Dance Company and Wakisha (Rwanda), who staged performances around the theme “Mind Lives Matter.”
“Contemporary dance is still at the discovery stage, making it so beautiful,” explains Hosaiah Otieno Odindo, from Yawa Dance Company.
Through the years, the festival has attracted a largely foreign audience, hence the notion that it is a western art form.
However, this is changing slowly.
“People do still call it an art for the whites, or only for an intellectual audience,” explains Wesley Ruzibiza, a dancer from Amizero Dance Kompagnie, and the festival founder.
He blames this misconception on the dance’s design.
“When you make it complicated, it turns out so; but when you use traditional dance and theatre, you make it open to everybody,” he said.
Ruzibiza’s concern is shared by Yannick Kamanzi, a budding contemporary dancer.
“Some people, including emerging dancers, think that it is all about throwing hands in the air.”
Kamanzi, who took up the art five years ago and is currently creating and directing performances, explains that contemporary dance is a discipline, which requires a lot of hard work and training.
To Frank Mugisha, EANT festival director, contemporary art is growing the challenegs notwithstanding.
“It’s beyond just the dance, but we are aiming on producing artists who are technically strong, and ready for world dance performances,” he adds. With professional dancers and content, Mugisha believes they will reach more people and with that it will not only be consumed more but also appreciated.
But Johnny Autin, the Autin Dance Theatre’s creative director, says there is a need for more places in East Africa where people can go for training in contemporary dance.
In Rwanda, without a national theatre, there is a sore need for cultural places where this form of art can be nurtured.
“Organisation, facilitation and production is not so easy, since it requires enough funds,” states Ruzibiza.
This year the festival attracted a few sponsors and partners, including the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation, Goethe Institut, Rwanda Arts Initiative, Ministry of Sports and Culture, Positive Production and the Kigali Cultural Village.