Casimiro Nhussi has spent a lot of time communing with nature this summer.
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● NAfro Dance Productions
● St. Norbert Art Centre, 100 Rue des Ruines du Monastere
● Sept. 24 and 25, 6 p.m.; Sept. 26 and 27, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
● Tickets $20 for adults, $12 for children under 12 years of age
● Visit nafrodance.com for more information
The artistic director of NAfro Dance Productions has been busy working on a new performance that will take place on the banks of the La Salle River at the St. Norbert Art Centre from Sept. 24 to 27. Matope is a site-specific, outdoor show born out of the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I can’t go indoors, so I’m going outdoors," Nhussi says. "This (virus) is gonna be here for some time, so as artists, I thought this is a time to explore a new way, it is time to explore a new direction."
Matope means "mud" in Swahili and is the name of a spirit that comes out of the ground at sunset to visit villagers and announce the changing of the season.
The dancers take on the form of spirits and the show starts with bodies breaking through the dirt and emerging from the river. The work carries on as a kind of surreal dreamscape that is unlike NAfro’s typical fare.
"It’s really getting out of the box," he says.
Nhussi has choreographed site-specific dances in Mozambique, where he was born, but this is the first time he’s created something similar in Manitoba — and he’s taking full advantage of the environment.
The dance company is known for its high-energy live music and drumming, but the instruments will be noticeably absent during Matope. Instead, the musicians will be using branches, rocks and leaves to accompany the dancers.
"We’re using what nature can offer," Nhussi says. "All the performers, they are part of nature."
The show features 12 local dancers, who have been rehearsing on the riverbank rain or shine since July. For Nhussi, the days with inclement weather were the most profound.
"Everybody had a good time being out there working in that environment," he says. "(I) was brought back into my childhood to be sliding and rolling in the mud… and also the beauty as we were creating this piece; there were deer that crossed by and squirrels that were running between the performers."
Preparing for a show has been a welcome distraction from the pandemic.
"The creation of the piece and the process itself was really, really good," Nhussi says. "It really takes out the stress, especially for me, after the March shutdown… it was really stressful."
Audience sizes for Matope are limited to 40 people with physical distancing in place. Chairs will be provided, but attendees are welcome to bring their own or a blanket to sit on during the performance. The audience will be seated above the riverbank performance area and shows will go ahead regardless of weather, so ticket holders should dress for the forecast.
"We can’t stop moving because of the weather," Nhussi says, laughing.
The artistic director is adopting that same flexibility while preparing for the rest of NAfro’s 2020-21 season. The group is scheduled to perform a show in March at the Gas Station Arts Centre, but uncertainty is the only certainty.
"We have to move like the weather, because sometimes it can change," Nhussi says. "We just have to keep our spirits up; we have to be ready to take any opportunity that we can find... we just have to wing it."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.