A Night of Ritual Dance

Written by: Sam Banda Jnr, Malawi

Picture Credit: Taliipot
Sounds of beating drums and blowing horns accompanied with impeccable choreographic ritual dances and storytelling left the audience with more questions than answers during Taliipot Theatre Company’s performance at the French Cultural Centre recently.

It was a cold night in Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre, but that didn’t stop dance enthusiasts from coming out in their numbers to see Taliipot’s musical, choreographic and theatrical piece, Ma Ravan which is a ritual for ancestors.

Ma Ravan was curtain raised by Malawi’s Nanzikambe Contemporary Dance Lab proving that Malawi isn’t behind when it comes to contemporary dance. Their show featured Robert Magasa, Peter Makalande and Joshua Bhima with Shyne Phiri at the helm. Nanzikambe, meaning Chameleon, did a good job of warming up the audience as they awaited Taliipot’s performance.

And when Taliipot finally took their place on stage, their piece evoked a lot of emotions – shock, fear and anguish as they revealed the exploits of the slave trade. At one moment the audience clapped hands in appreciation. Then the mood would change to silence when the performers started stripping until they were left with only underwear.

Ma Ravan is inspired by the ravanne – a round drum common to all the Indian Ocean islands including East Africa, India and Sri Lanka. In an interview, Thierry Moucazambo who is one of the dancers said that the ravanne, subject of all projections, symbolizes alliance and links different worlds together, adding that Ma Ravan is inspired by the Indian Ocean’s myths, journeys, exiles, breakings and great crossings. He also said Ma Ravan was testimony to the 350 years of slavery Reunion Island had experienced.

“The horns which were being blown were used by slaves to call each other from one mountain to the other. The drum beating was part of receiving vital energy,” explained Moucazambo.

During the show Maucazambo also spoke about the oblivion tree which is a place where slaves were told to make a ritual sacrifice so that they would lose their memories and forget the past.

“You know when you lose your memory you lose your identity but what the world has to know is that the story of slave trade is not finished. It continues,” he said.

Between ritual and performance, through evocation and invocation of the great maroons, those rebellious and resisting slaves, timeless heroes who opened up paths to freedom, Ma Ravan represents the living strength inside all Africans today.

The show emphasized the urgent need, beyond historical wounds, to find links, affiliations from one island to another, coast to coast, between two worlds and the need to form one body. The artists sang and performed the ravanne dance to wake up memories and the secret alliance between man and nature, man and his land, man and his great history. Furthermore the performance celebrated and gave respect to freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela.

Other traditional instruments such as the valis and percussion were used alongside the ravanne during the production. Popular healing songs from East Africa and the high plateaus of Madagascar also formed a significant part of the show.

Ma Ravan was received very well and was even praised by Malawian actor, Maxwell Chiphinga. “The performance was marvelous and there was a lot of creativity which is missing in our local groups,” said Chiphinga. “It re-awakened your mind and more so it was mind boggling. It kept the audience wondering what will happen next and such performances are not common.”

His sentiments were corroborated by Nanzikambe’s William le Cordeur who said this was a very beautiful demonstration of ritual dance.

Directed by Philippe Pelen Baldini, the show consists of four talented dancers namely, Reunion Island’s Thierry Moucazambo, Pascal Marie, Michael Marmitte and Jose Njiva Andrianantenaina, all the way from Mauritius.

The event was sponsored by Total Malawi.