- Kira, The Path/La Voie
- Choreographed and composed by: Fara Tolno
- Presented by: Lua Shayenne Dance Company and Luminato
Kira, The Path/La Voie is a no-frills program of vibrant West African dance and music. The show’s energy is infectious. I caught a media preview on Thursday night – the show opens Friday as part of Toronto’s Luminato festival – and left the theatre feeling both awed and invigorated by the performers’ stamina. The work is also an uplifting reminder of African dance’s special ability to express a comprehensive, full-body joy.
Presented by the Toronto-based Lua Shayenne Dance Company, Kira is choreographed and composed by Guinean percussionist Fara Tolno, who specializes in the djembe. Meaning “gather in peace” in the Malian language Bambara, the djembe is the evening’s focal instrument, a goblet drum played with bare hands and described in the program notes as “the messenger between the visible and invisible worlds.” When Tolno treats us to an extensive solo, we get a sense of his marvellous skill. The djembe is known for its ability to create a variety of tones and volumes. It seems to talk to Tolno as much as he appears to dictate its rhythms, so that the music generated has a ventriloquist quality – a rich conversation between an artist and his instrument.
Tolno is joined by four musicians: two drummers, a guitarist and the mesmerizing singer Joy Adjemian, who adds lovely high-pitched bursts of melody to the percussion-centred sounds. Adjemian is a dancer in her own right and, at one point, she leaves the upstage line of musicians to dance alone. Dressed in a traditional boubou, she moves her arms in large, expressive sweeps, a kind of minimalist reverie that provides a lyrical counterpoint to the fast-paced and dynamic footwork that comprises the bulk of the choreography.
As for that choreography, it’s riveting to watch. Performed by three men (Kwasi Obeng-Adjei, Shakeil Rollock, Kahamilou Zongo) and Shayenne, it showcases some of the best elements of traditional West African dance. Complex rhythms are attacked with nimble feet and swinging arms. Low pulsing jumps recur so constantly and rapidly that it can seem as though the dancers are stepping on hot coals. As a performer, Shayenne is exuberant and no-less athletic than her male co-dancers. Rollock also stands out for his playful presence and impressive buoyancy on a series of barrel jumps.
Robyn Macdonald’s costumes are colourful and varied, without ever upstaging the dancing. My one gripe is with Sharon DiGenova’s lighting design, which feels discordant with the program’s natural, unfettered aesthetic. She soaks the backdrop in bright artificial colours and projects circular patterns onto the floor. This synthetic intrusion is a shame as the piece seems to be calling out to have its naturalism honoured. The design could have amplified the sense of play, sunlight and outdoor harmony that is so rich to the onstage mood.
Kira, The Path/La Voie continues at the Fleck Dance Theatre until June 9.
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