Umkhathi for Africa Dance Festival

BULAWAYO - Reigning National Arts Merit Award (Nama) dance champions, Umkhathi Theatre Works are the only group from Zimbabwe selected to represent the country at the internationally-acclaimed Africa Dance Festival in New York, USA.

Umkhathi Theatre Works becomes the second to be selected for the prestigious showcase after another Bulawayo-based group Iwisa Dance Company in 1997.

The Matesu Dube-led ensemble will be making a second trip to overseas after their maiden performance in Scotland, Aberdeen Festival some few years ago.

The troupe won the 2011 Chibuku Neshamwari Traditional Dance Bulawayo provincial champions and impressed American artists who were on an African talent-scouting mission.

Former Siyaya Dance Company administrator and coordinator of the scouting mission, Desmond Ntini told the Daily News that they settled for Umkhathi after an assessment of many other groups in the city.

“We actually visited almost every dance group in the city and watched their various performances among other issues but in the end Davis as a seasoned artist used his discretion and chose Umkhathi,” said Ntini. Besides, Umkhathi is a better group. They are not opportunists, they have been in it for long and I think they deserved that,” he added.

Umkhathi will leave for the American festival in May next year where they are set to mix and mingle with other dance groups in the process exchanging cultural skills. Speaking to the Daily News Dube, the Umkhathi director described the selection as an honour to their contribution in the industry.

“I feel great as the leader of Umkhathi. I think we have been in this field for a long time. We have been consistent even when the economy was down,” said Dube.

“Being chosen shows that coming second at the last Chibuku Neshamwari Traditional Dance national competition in Harare was no fluke. For us it means a lot and above all, the trip will give us the opportunity to learn and share expertise with foreign artists.”

Besides being the Nama outstanding dance group of the year the group also provided two nominees in the same competition.

Faith Moyo was a runner-up in the outstanding female dancer category while Hebson Ncube was also a runner up as the outstanding male dancer of the year.

The group has toured regional countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

Speaking to the Daily News Chuck Davis, the founder and director of Dance Africa Festival described Zimbabwe as culturally rich hence his preference for a Zimbabwean group.

Davis’s organisation specialises in dance music and theatre.

“Zimbabwe is one country in the world that has a rich texture in as far as culture is concerned. The last time we invited a Zimbabwean group called Iwisa, they were just true ambassadors of Africa,” he said.

“Dance is life. Dance is spirit it’s in everything we do, and that’s particularly true of African dance.” He said to explain why his organisation prefers promoting dance in Africa.

As part of their engagement to Zimbabwe, Davis who was in the company of Nick Schwartz Hall who is the producer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Bam) visited various arts centres in the city.

The duo also donated books at a local school before winding up their weeklong tour with the visit of the mighty Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries that have so far benefited from the 35-year-old programme including Kenya, South Africa, Angola, DRC, Ethiopia and Eretria among others.

The Dance Africa Festival last year entertained Pamodzi Dance Troupe from neighbouring Zambia.

The festival has over the years blossomed into one of the largest celebrations of African and African-American culture encompassing dance, music, art and film.


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