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Review

MUKUTHÔ Proves That Community Can Be Built Within The Span of One Show

The performance by Casimiro Nhussi and Pulga Muchochoma, in partnership with dance Immersion, was presented in Toronto as part of Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park from Aug. 19 through 27 By Chenise Mitchell
  • Muchochoma and Nhussi / Photo by Dahlia Katz

There is a familial feeling while we wait for MUKUTHÔ to start. The grass and stone seating adds to the warmth of the instruments, fabrics and calabash on the stage. The polyrhythmic songs heard while the audience is filling the space make it seem like the show has already started.

It’s as if the wind, trees and insects are dancing to the pre-show music. The warm light of the setting sun glows and our focus seamlessly shifts to the stage. Then the performance, by Casimiro Nhussi and Pulga Muchochoma, actually starts. 

The first person we see is Nhussi, who walks fiercely towards us with a serious look and then smiles and waves. We feel as though we’re waving back at a friend. We are immediately in the palm of his hand and attentive to his many details. As he plays a small string instrument at a medium tempo, somewhere close to a heartbeat, he is incredibly grounded, yet lifted.

Then our friend establishes a rhythm for the audience to clap and our connection is sealed. The second musician, Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison, helps the music come alive. He makes the instruments dance; beads swaying gentle and strong on shakers and the keys of the xylophone bouncing. Our friend’s arms are now free of instruments and his movements are watery, exemplifying the gentle strong nature of the rhythms. Vitality fills the stage.

A song summons Muchochoma, the third and final artist. He is soon fluctuating between tension and release. The energetic connection between all three artists is easily felt.

When the first calabash is shown, the audience’s acknowledgement of it is palpable. There is a feeling as if the whole audience has nodded together, accepting the next movement in the ceremony. The artists make music sonically with their instruments and visually with their bodies, and it’s clear that there are no leaders or followers. This highlights the true meaning of togetherness; their connection to each other, to the audience and to the ancestors means they are in sync. This is not just audience interaction, but a ceremony involving every being experiencing this show. They are building community.

The trust established at the start of the show is exemplified as the audience is taught to say “popa,” a Mozambique word for “blessings,” with a double clap when the flour is thrown in the air. The flour leaves trails and prints on the floor and in the air as if there are more than just three beings on stage. We keep the beat as the artists circle the stage’s perimeter, painting it with joy. Though we are not on stage, we feel included in this beautiful liberation. The artists’ expressions release our tensions and the fluidity of movement and music cleanses us. These artists show us the power of dance and music as a way to heal and connect, participating in the blessings with and for our ancestors.

When the stagehand sweeps away the flour, one artist plays the xylophone and the audience claps the tempo (without prompt, which seems to delightfully surprise the musician). Through improvisation, the show continues as the stagehand dances with the broom; it’s confirmed that every moment is a part of the ceremony and every being is a participant. This sweeping symbolizes the gentle closing of the ceremony’s climax.

All artists come together with a revived energy. The way the artists complement each others’ movements and sounds is seamless. Ballistic and bright movements are encouraged by strong percussion, bouncy bass and cheerful shakers and bells. Their trading and improvising is fluid, joyous and free. 

The finale of the ceremony happens at moonrise and has everyone on their feet learning, connecting and improvising the dances that the artists teach us. When a child rushes to the front of the stage, their intuition and wonder is encouraged by the artists and the audience equally. The ancestors are present and the child is nurtured. 

We end uplifted, together, having released energies that may have weighed us down on our way to the park. The beauty of the land, dancing with each other, understanding how we are all connected means we leave breathing deeper, fuller, easier. It has become evident that community can be just for one hour, connecting with people whose names you may never say, but whose expression of joy has now cast a ripple in your life.

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