Dancing to the shrills of crickets and voices of talking villagers doesn’t sound like an easy or even exciting task. It is even more challenging when it is meant to entertain an audience.
Yet that is precisely what choreographer Fernando Anuang’a has chosen to undertake on his 20th year of dancing, with a new act titled Feelings and Voices.
He does so with determination and scores well on the poetic ground, but leaves space for improvement on the entertainment front.
Anuang’a is one of the trio that once made up Rare Watts dancers, which, in 1990, came up with creative adaptations of traditional Maasai dance styles into modern moves that flowed well with fast-paced techno beats.
The group fizzled out about six years later as the members went their separate ways in pursuit of different destinies.
The group was made up of Anuang’a, James “Nyash” Ongoro and Enock Kimeu. According to Anuang’a, Ongoro and Kimeu, still dance together once in a while, but Kimeu ventured more into singing under the stage name Enomizizi.
Anuang’a went on dancing and eventually ended up in southern France, where he gained further recognition for the modern approach to Maasai traditional dance.
With more training, he gradually took up themed dancing and started working on choreographed moves that told stories. Some people call it contemporary dance.
Anuang’a approached this form of dancing through Maasai cultural perspectives. He has blended tradition with modernity, and it’s working well for him.
Journey Into the Future was one of such great blends. It elaborated the value of respecting heritage in the face of changing technologies and lifestyles, and scored well in both abstract and entertainment features.
Having performed it solo in France and other parts of Europe, Anuang’a came back to the country to train back-up dancers from Magadi town, where he had previously lived.
For about three months from the end of 2006, he rigorously refined the skills of promising dancers he had selected from the community. The daily drills under sweltering heat paid off.
He named the new team Maasai Vocal Dance Group, and then took them with him to France for a stream of performances of an enhanced Journey Into the Future.
They held a few shows locally. Later, they held more in several African countries, before Anuang’a came back with a duo performance called Fusion Indo-Maasai.
This one featured only Anuang’a and Jaya Pachauri performing a blend of Maasai dance steps and classical Indian style called Kathak. This, too, travelled through a few African countries after exhibitions in France. Now Anuang’a has come up with Feelings and Voices.
So far, he has held two performances in Nairobi and Mombasa. This act brings back the Maasai Vocal Dance Group as his back-up performers.
In the act, Anuang’a attempts to translate traditional Maasai chants and other vocalisations into emotions that he then brings out through dance. It is not simple, but he does it.
For the abstract minded, the dance has admirably deep expressions, which nonetheless require considerable concentration to interpret.
For those who would prefer beats and rhythms they can shake their heads to, Feelings and Voices does not give much of that, compared to A Journey Into the Future or Fusion Indo-Maasai. It is simply a story of the lifestyles of the Maasai told through poetic dancing on red ochre.
Anuang’a explains: “Feelings and Voices is about transforming the feelings I get from vocals, into movements. This is more of a solo dance. The role of the back-up team is mainly to provide background voices in the show.”
And so, as the voices of elders in the performance tell stories of their times, mainly about being morans and becoming elders, and the women talk of their experiences from girls into womanhood and child delivery, Anuang’a’s dance steps shift to represent prominent events being narrated. They are love, games, revolt, and peace.
In his own words, he symbolises “love with round movements, games with comical dance steps, revolt with sharp moves that change abruptly, and peace with slow, fluid body and hand waves.” The dance takes 37 minutes. Anuang’a has gone back to France for more dancing.