The Spirit of Togetherness

Dates 17 October - 30 December 2007, Tues-Sat 8 pm; Wed 12 pm; Sat 2pm; Sun 3pm Venue Vogue Theatre

Reviewer Susan Peake

The Vogue Theatre was movin’ and shakin’ on Tuesday evening as the cast of Umoja gave “shake your booty” a whole new meaning at the opening night’s performance. The energy in the theatre was tangible even before the show began and you knew you were about to experience something special. When the entertainment began, we were rocked out of our seats with the incredible sounds coming from huge amplified tom-toms. We were then taken on a musical journey through South Africa’s tribal past, through apartheid, to gospel and then to today’s musical pop scene.

The performers are made up of over twenty-five male and female singer/dancers, a narrator and a five piece band (the band members are veiled behind a semi-sheer curtain at the back of the stage). The singer/dancers come from a number of different villages in Africa and were chosen as cast members by the creators of Umoja, Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni. The cast exudes so much energy as they gyrate around the stage, it become increasingly difficult to stay still in one’s seat.

It isn’t easy to choose highlights of the evening’s performance because of the distinctiveness of each number. But, the synchronized snake dance where the female cast members link green glove-covered arms to create an incredibly realistic interpretation of a slithering snake was definitely extraordinary. Another memorable routine was the gumboot dance performed by bare-chested miners smacking their hands against their boots to create an impressive percussive sound.

One striking observation has to be the pure uninhibited nature of the dancers. Aside from the obvious electricity that they generate, as well as their enormous talent, there is an underlying sense of openness in their character that is displayed on their faces, in their movements and in their spirit. Each performer brings an authenticity to the production that is unique.

The many colourful costumes ranging from savage-like tribal attire to modern urban rap, add to the charm of this production. As well, the fast paced high-kicking, body shaking choreography is spectacular.

Umoja means “spirit of togetherness” and the musical touches all who experience it. There are not enough productions of this kind that leave the audience feeling happily united at the end of the night. Thankfully, there is Umoja. It is superb.

© 2007 Susan Peake