CAN DANCE address politics? How, and what would it look like? Several TBA:12 performers engage that question, including choreographer and dancer Nora Chipaumire. Chipaumire grew up during apartheid and guerilla warfare in Zimbabwe, immigrating to the United States in 1989. She began dancing shortly thereafter and has since garnered a fair amount of attention—she's received two coveted Bessie Awards and was the topic of the 2008 documentary Nora (which screened at the Museum of Modern Art). When dancing, Chipaumire has a hypnotizing effect. She moves with focus and fury, her head shaved and her sculpted body taut. She often crouches, her legs cast wide, her head down. Her steps tend toward stomps. She flails her arms, and then she flings her entire body to the ground in tireless repetition. Her topics—displacement, exile, and African identity—are laced with autobiographical conviction. Her dances are intimate, with a quiet intensity where she mines her personal history.
For TBA:12, Chipaumire will perform with one other dancer—Okwui Okpokwasili (born in the Bronx to Nigerian parents)—in a duet called Miriam. The title pulls from female icons the Virgin Mary and Miriam Makeba—a South African singer and civil rights activist who was exiled for 30 years. Miriam is character driven; where much of contemporary African dance is male-centric, Chipaumire addresses the female. Its concern is the space between private and public expectations of the female body, particularly the subjugation of the African female body, often drawing comparisons to the content of artist Kara Walker. In place of a linear storyline, Chipaumire's dances favor abstraction and striking visuals.
Chipaumire has discussed the branding of Africa—as a land of genocide, of poverty, and even of safaris—as a strong concern in her work. To Portlanders, Africa may seem like a distant place, accessible only through mediated sources. Chipaumire's work offers an additional dimension. Social awareness comes in many ways; often, seeing is believing. It may only be one perspective, but Miriam gives us a chance to witness it.
Lincoln Hall at PSU, Fri Sept 7-Sat Sept 8, 8:30 pm, $20-25, pica.org