Out of Africa

Rating: NNNNNMoving Into Dance is the first non-segregated -- the troupe calls it non-racial -- professional company to arise out.


Rating: NNNNN

Moving Into Dance is the first non-segregated — the troupe calls it non-racial — professional company to arise out of the ashes of South Africa’s apartheid culture.

Under the law-challenging tutelage of artistic director Sylvia Glasser, MID is also responsible for the instigation of a dance trend they call afrofusion.

It’s a discipline that combines traditional African moves, music and ritual with western ballet and contemporary dance forms.

And it’s secured them an honoured place on the international dance map, having launched the careers of both original member Vincent Mantsoe and Felicity de Jager, now a soloist with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.


Cultural respect

They’ve travelled the world absorbing other cultures, a practice that is crucial to the perpetuation of afrofusion. Over the years, MID has also incorporated Middle Eastern and Japanese chops into a style that is in a perpetual state of development.

But the influences are subtle. The fusion takes place at such a basic level, it’s hard to tell whether one dance is more North American or another more African.

“As Vincent Mantsoe says, you can always draw from other cultures as long as you do it with respect,” says managing director and Glasser confidant Susan Graham from Johannesburg prior to MID’s three-day Milk International Children’s Festival stand this weekend at the du Maurier Theatre Centre.

“Now we’re applying that at home, and looking at collaborating with different choreographers in South Africa. The buzz word here these days truly is ‘fusion.’ People are working together now in a country that used to be divided.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

“For a mixed company to travel on the continent when we began was almost impossible,” says Graham, “because facilities were racially separated — even the theatres. And we’d have hassles at borders and things like that with people who didn’t approve at all of what we had set out to do.

“Things have changed, of course, over the last six years. But we were one of the only companies to fight against those very uncomfortable and unpleasant times when it wasn’t at all popular to do so.


Bright future

“Our own afrofusion was the first fusion to happen here. There’s so much more coming together in general. And specifically, because so many more dance styles are combining, there’s now incredible development in South African dance.”

That’s a liberating feeling for the members of MID, who remember a time when their traditional dances weren’t even recognized as an art form. But Graham is always forward-looking.

“South Africa has really embraced its new regime,” she insists. “People are expressing a lot of good will. There’s very little ill will still harboured in the country politically.

“And that spills over into the cultural world.”

For their Canadian debut, the nine-member MID has put together an amalgam of five works they’ve created over the last decade, called Mophatong — after Mophatong wa Thabo, their Newtown home base.


Strong beats

“It’s a very specific piece for children,” says Graham. “Most of our works are very much performance-calibre works that are designed for dance-educated audiences.

“But for Mophatong, we’ve selected some very lively, energetic pieces with strong beats, utilizing traditional instruments, foot rattles and the like — and with an educational slant that will appeal to younger sensibilities.”

As a non-profit organization, MID is consistently concerned with maintaining its relationship with African kids, while working to raise the funds to keep the company alive. Graham admits it’s a constant chicken-or-egg battle.

“But we’re at the peak of our creativity,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of performing and touring. All of the dancers are also teachers of dance in schools in underprivileged areas. So we must raise the funds to finance the teaching.

“Touring and performing is one good way of doing it.”


darylj@nowtoronto.com

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