Opiyo Okach (29 years old), the choreographer of « Cleansing », was initially a reputed mime artist in Kenya. Faustin Linyekula and Affrah Tanemberger (25 and 21 years old), the other two members of the Gaara company created in 1996, come from the theatre and contemporary dance worlds respectively. Defending an expressive form that lies at the crossroads between these three universes, this unclassable trio offers a style that is unusually fresh and simple. Presented for the first time in Nairobi in 1997, « Cleansing » explores the spectre of cleaning images, ranging from the banal household chore to the purification ritual, or the monstrous ideology of ethnic cleansing. Dressed in blood red velvet, and pushing the minimalism to the extreme, the three dancers with shaved heads and a princely beauty, offer the spectator a delicate and fluid dance at the beginning of the piece, which is set to the gentle swinging jazz of Dargo Raimondi. Kneeling before a large dish filled with water, they act out the ablutions purification ritual. Their gestures are slow and harmonious, beyond time. The minimalist aesthetic of both the choreography and the sets (only comprising chrome tube scaffolding at the back of the stage and the three dishes) give it a striking depth. Then, the fluidity of the movements is broken: the gestures become faster, jerkier. They break away from the framework established, shifting into a pantomime tinged with humour. With its arching eyebrows, mouths which imitate fish’s, light hand clapping, Gaara’s dance excels in these sparks of detail, in the subtle mix of contrasts: spirituality and lightness, gravity and derision. Long moments of silence, during which the loud and synchronized breathing of the dancers is heard, again highlight the sobriety of the lines in the empty space. An increasingly marked tension takes over the trio up until the climax, when one of the dancers, far away in the middle of a wild duo, mechanically falls backwards a dozen times. The dull sound of the impact of the body on the ground resounds with an echo.
The paradoxical spirit of Gaara is clear right to the very end. Standing side by side, the dancers each hold their bowls. After having slowly raised them to the sky like an offering to be blessed, they suddenly turn them upside down. The water brusquely showers them, mid-way between a ritual and a sudden downpour. « Cleansing » ends on the surprised smiles of the audience. Only an extract of this first creation, which is constructed as a triptych, was seen in Abidjan (the part placed under the sign of the colour red, the other two being devoted to the colours black and white), but it stood out as one of the most inventive pieces presented during this edition of the Masa.
« Cleansing » (which won 3rd prize at the InterAfrican choreography competition in Luanda, in 1998) shows real research into the expressiveness of the whole body and its relation to space.
A subtle mix of force and frailness, of spirituality and derision, Gaara’s hybrid style (Gaara being the name of a traditional bell amongst the Luo in Kenya) happily adventures beyond standard classifications.
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