How a brand new modern dance work was impressed by African dance and music | Interview with Dada Masilo

Phrases by Diane Parkes.

Acclaimed South African choreographer and dancer Dada Masilo brings collectively European and African influences in her newest present which involves Sadler’s Wells this February earlier than a UK tour. 

The Sacrifice blends modern dance with the distinctive rhythms and strikes of Tswana, a standard African dance impressed by one of many continent’s most iconic small animals – the meerkat!

Soweto-born Dada was 12 when she began modern dance and ballet lessons at The Dance Manufacturing unit in Johannesburg. She was impressed to take her coaching additional when she noticed the world-famous Belgian firm Rosas carry out. She utilized to their faculty in Brussels and was one in every of 30 dancers chosen out of 800 candidates to review there.

It was in Brussels that Dada started choreographing though initially her pursuits lay primarily in performing. Nonetheless, on her return to South Africa, she struggled to search out productions which introduced collectively the totally different worldwide parts of dance and music which she had loved a lot.

“To start with I didn’t need to be a choreographer as a result of it’s too tough,” she says. “However we needed to create work as a part of our coaching. Then after I got here again to South Africa there have been no choreographers making work that I wished to carry out.

“I wished to do the narrative, the dance drama, I wished to sort out that and no one was creating that sort of work. So I assumed ‘effectively if no-one is doing it, then it’s got to be your self’ and that’s how I began to choreograph.”

Dada has since created a collection of vastly profitable works which take Western classics and fuse them with parts of storytelling, motion and music from her personal African heritage. Over the previous decade her re-interpretations of Carmen, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Giselle have been critically acclaimed each in South Africa and internationally.

“I used to be skilled to fuse totally different traditions, cultures and rituals and that’s what I’ve achieved in all my work,” she says. “I attempt to make every part international in order that in case you are an individual that’s in Europe or an individual who’s in Africa you continue to perceive what is going on. The privilege for me is in bringing the entire thing collectively so it’s not African or European, it’s turn into one thing else.”

Dada each creates the work and performs in all of her productions.

“For me it’s simpler to be each choreographer and dancer as a result of I’m not sitting out watching what I need individuals to do, I’m doing it too. I need to really feel what everybody else is feeling. Then I do know, for instance, that after I’m drained then everyone is drained. I have to be there, it’s what I like to do.”

For The Sacrifice, mixing traditions meant a substantial amount of examine for Dada and her firm of dancers. The Tswana dance, historically carried out at festivals, originated among the many individuals of Botswana and can also be well-liked in South Africa and Namibia. Though Dada and her forged knew of the dance, it took a variety of work for them to grasp its intricate actions.

“Tswana is a dance from my heritage which is impressed by the meerkat,” says Dada. “The meerkat is a really small, very quick animal and I used to be drawn to that as a result of I really like to maneuver very quick. Previously, I’ve fused modern dance with flamenco, with ballet and plenty of different issues however not with a selected dance from my very own tradition so this is a chance to try this.

“I needed to be taught Tswana from scratch – I spent three months with a trainer, simply on my own, after which we introduced within the firm for a few month. It was extremely tough however I at all times love studying one thing new.”

Dada additionally sought the recommendation of the elders of her group to make sure the piece remained respectful of her individuals’s traditions.

“There’s a part the place we name out all our surnames, mainly calling the ancestors and saying the ancestors have come, and I needed to ask the elders whether or not that was all proper to do. I wanted to get their permission.”

The Sacrifice is impressed by Stravinsky’s The Ceremony of Spring however Dada and her crew have developed a brand new soundscape which is firmly rooted in African music.

“I used to be actually amazed on the advanced rhythms in Stravinsky and that was our start line however there are such a lot of variations of The Ceremony of Spring set to Stravinsky’s music that I wished to create a brand new rating. I’ve 4 musicians, a percussionist, a violinist, a keyboard participant and a singer, they usually listened to Stravinsky’s music. Then after that I mentioned ‘OK, what can we do with these references?’ they usually created the rating which is rooted in South Africa whereas I created the motion vocabulary. We labored carefully collectively because the reside music is such an necessary a part of the present.”

The UK tour, which involves Sadler’s Wells on 24 & 25 February, is introduced by Dance Consortium, a gaggle of 18 large-scale theatres with a mission to carry the very best worldwide dance to phases throughout the UK and Eire. 

“I’m eternally grateful that we are able to take our work to totally different individuals in numerous international locations,” says Dada. “It’s additionally nice to speak to totally different audiences and learn the way they really feel and what they assume the work is about as a result of a variety of the time they are going to really feel one thing totally different. 

“We create and carry out the work and they’re going to react to it however we can’t dictate how they are going to reply, that’s for them. However I’d love for audiences of The Sacrifice to really feel – I’d love for them to know its unhappiness but additionally to really feel the enjoyment and the love.

“It’s nice to return to the UK. With this tour, we’re going to various new locations so I’m actually enthusiastic about coming again to London and Sadler’s Wells. 

Dance Consortium presents Dada Masilo’s The Sacrifice at Brighton Dome on 21-22 February. Book here. For extra info on the tour see

Header picture by Tristram Kenton.