Aida Colmenero Diaz perform her solo “Aka Nativa” one last time at the close of JOMBA! today. Photography by Val Adamson.

Spotlights and manifestos on final JOMBA! night

A review of Aȉda Colmenero Diaz and Haja Saranouffi by Marcia Mzindle

The 20th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience is drawing to a close. Choreographers from around the world and locally, together, gave an offering that ignited a fire in our hearts. We bathed in issues of identity, feminism, culture, religion and the politics of our daily lives, challenging us to look deeper than the surface. Indeed, it has been an experience celebrating diversity, spirituality and hope, but mostly community. Further resonating are the words of the artistic director Lliane Loots shared on the opening night in stating that community has the power to suspended fear, cross borders and break down walls.

A spotlight beams stage left and Aȉda Colmenero Dȉaz steps in she moves slowly, maneuvering her upper body as if liquid. She gradually throws her head back then arches her spine, bending backwards, her right thumb pressed in the centre of her chest. Diaz carefully opens her hand to create an open fan with her fingers, allowing them to fall in a domino effect, and the light fades to black out.

This is done three more times in each corner of the stage, as the sound of the ocean subtly plays in the background. In her performance titled “Aka Nativa,” Dȉaz strides across the stage, her face lights up like she is keeping the mysteries of the universe in her pockets when she smiles.

She dances in a streak of spotlight while the rest of the stage is in complete darkness, drawing your eye where to look. Beams of lights act as a compass guiding her back home; as hope, the ethos of there being “light at the end of tunnel,” regardless how much darkness may surround us; or maybe as the different stages we go through in life.

Dȉaz’s movements are fluid and poetic as she dances, never stepping out of the light. She walks to a microphone stationed downstage stage left, and speaks:

“I’m just writing my manifesto, a live manifesto, for you…you,” as she points into the crowd and smiles. She continues to say, “I have two words,” but before she says them asks, “Are you with me?… Beauty and death.”

Dȉaz continues to entice with her words, saying, “Past, present, future…strategies to survive, strategies to understand.” Referencing the past as ancestors, people who have lived before, the present us — the now — and the future, unknown. I translate this as a validation and a reminder of the importance of living your life to fullest and being present, the past, having happened, cannot be undone but the future can still to be created.

Dȉaz repeats the words again: beauty and death. The theatre is then filled with darkness as her light fades out. I’m now seeing the story of life, the light being us, love, memories everything we cherish and live for. The darkness is our fears and regrets, our last breaths and final goodbye as the soul departs from our flesh.

Haja Saranouffi’s “Danse des Bouteilles” has its final performance at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre today, as JOMBA! 2018 concludes. Photography by Val Adamson.

Following “Aka Nativa was “Danse des Bouteilles,” conceptualised and choreographed by Haja Saranouffi, who won the “Grand Prix I’TROTRA” International Dance Festival in Madgscar. We sat in theatre waiting for the house lights to dim and the performance to begin, when a crash was heard at the back of the theatre. Turning around to investigate, a tall man, Saranouffi, bare chested and dressed in black men’s boxers, wears a necklace made of a bunch of plastic bottles. He’s slightly bent forward as if his being pulled by the weight of his neck piece, and stands at the back of the theatre. There’s another loud thump of plastic bottles crashing as he hits himself against the wall. He moves in-between audience members, over auditorium seats, staggering with no pattern, plastic bottles in tow. It is as if he aims to make the audience feel uncomfortable, by sitting in between them, on their laps, invading their space, coming up to their faces as he tries pulls the plastic bottles away from his neck aggressively, suggesting being choked. Saranouffi tries to breathe, wanting to break free from this bondage, at times, resting the plastic bottles on the audience’s faces as if to suffocate them.

I’m quickly reminded on the devasting results that pollution causes, and am imagining a bird trapped a plastic bag or a plastic six pack holder. I’m left with an urge of wanting to help him break free from his yoke, which seems to be destabilising him as he keeps falling. Is that not the point? That we all should be doing something to make this situation a little better, one recyclable at a time?

Saranouffi makes his way to the stage, and the auditorium light finally dims. Harivola Rakotondrasoa stands with his back facing the crowd in a spotlight, which creates a confined box falling on him while performing a solo. I am quickly reminded of a poem by Maya Angelou titled “Caged Bird.” It tells the narrative of how sometimes freedom is taken for granted by those who are free, and further describes why caged birds sing. The last line reads “for the caged birds sing for freedom,” and perhaps this was Rakotondrasoa song for freedom. What an intriguing performance, done with much zeal.

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Online KHULUMA publication for the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience Archives: http://jombakhuluma.blogspot.com

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Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke

Chicago-based dance writer and critic

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