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With the Middle East roiling with citizens who’ve had enough of their repressive rulers, the concepts of free speech—or lack thereof—and what it means to be a prisoner of your own county have moved, once again, to front and center.
That makes Nora Chipaumire’s timing uncanny. The Zimbabwean-born choreographer who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S. is showing her work tonight and tomorrow night at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center. Though she’s worked all over this country and is a member of the internationally known dance company Urban Bush Women, Chipaumire still grapples with the difficult issues of living outside her native country, which is currently one of the most repressive in the world.
Her piece, “lions will roar, swans will fly, angels will wrestle heaven, rains will break: gukurahundi,” focuses directly on freedom of expression in Zimbabwe; it’s a dance, she says, “about loss, grief, displacement, trauma.”
Live accompaniment to Chipaumire’s piece will be provided by Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited. A towering figure in the Afro-pop world and creator and popularizer of chimurenga music, Mapfumo also lives in exile in the U.S. His music is banned in Zimbabwe.
Ideally, this performance will do what art is ultimately meant for: to transmit, from one individual directly to another, a wordless expression of a unique experience. In this case, it’s the experience of coming from a land where not even freedom of thought is a given.
A couple of free and intriguing events have been scheduled around the performance. Tonight at 7 p.m., UMD ethnomusicology professor Fernando Rios will host a preperformance discussion in the Leah M. Smith Lecture Hall to discuss chimurenga music and its early development in the years of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, as well as its successful exportation around the world through the efforts of musicians like Mapfumo.
And tomorrow night at 7 p.m., the university presents a screening of the film Nora, by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton, also in the Leah M. Smith Lecture Hall. Shot in southern Africa and featuring an original score by Mapfumo, the film uses performance and dance to bring Chipaumire’s childhood memories and history to life.
The performance is tonight and tomorrow night at 8 p.m. $30.