(This review appeared in the Sunday Nation on 8th March 2009)
The Indo Maasai Fusion dance was back at the Alliance Française on Wednesday 5th March, by public demand.
I found my seat in the garden, feeling grateful that I had a seat reserved for me because the show was sold out and people were seating on the garden steps and anywhere they could find space. I wondered what made this show so popular. Was it the sheer novelty of such a rare combination of cultures? Or was it its unifying factor in a country just recovering from the wrong end of ethnic differences?
The two dancers, Jaya Pachauri from India and Kenyan Fernando Anuang’a of the Rare Watts fame presented solo performances at the Avignon Festival in France about two years ago, after which the producers of the festival asked them to present a dance together and at first, they declined.
This was understandable, the two dances being different in every conceivable manner. Classical Indian dance, which Pachauri has mastered, is a highty-codified form of art that merges drama, dance and music, and is graceful and colourful. The Moran dances on the other hand are competitive and vigorous and while Indian dances are normally accompanied by musicians playing various instruments, the Maasai warrior dances are accompanied only by singing and polyphonic syncopation which is caused by tilting the head back and forth in sync with the breathing.
The aim of the two dancers was to show that two different cultures could come together through dance because it is a universal language. What they managed to achieve in fact, did not show any similarities in the two dance forms but actually brought out the differences, in beautiful contrast.
The most obvious contrast was the very masculine, lean, strong Anuang’a and the very feminine Pachauri, who looked like a beautiful flower. It came across like a courtship of two cultures. In fact a lady in the audience explained to me that one of the Indian songs said, “my drum, listen to the tune of my love”.
The moonlit evening and the warm air at the Alliance Française garden heightened this enamoured feeling.
The performance first alternated Masai and Indian dances, then both artistes danced together to both dances and ended with the Garba dance, which is performed before Diwali.
The spell-bound audience was multicultural and multiracial yet there seemed to be a unanimous sense of watching something that is our very own- two cultures that form an integral part of who we are, two of the few cultures that have remained so preserved, in modern Kenya.
However, my conclusion was that the show was so successful not so much for its cultural significance, but for the simple reason that it was a good work of art.
© Anne W. Manyara 2009