There is no question that Nora Chipaumire is a stunning dancer. Her control of limbs and force, her superhuman reach and length are all delicious to watch. She offers us confident sensuality, unabashed ferocity, and glimpses of tenderness. Her work with Urban Bush Women is evident, both in her technical choices and her fierce approach.
The images in Chimurenga are riveting.
-The red shirt, which she washes repeatedly in a stream. Both a comforting movement and terrible because each time she returns there is more blood to wash out.
-The return to a simple, understated dance. Her back is to us, doubled over she gently shakes, keeping time with back, butt, head, and fists. Is this a memory of dances past or a way to contain the anger that threatens to overtake her?
-The archetypal image of a woman with a gourd on her head. Full red dress, she lowers herself, silently, perfectly, without quavering or cowering, to lay her head on the ground. We know this is a prayer.
I only wanted Nora to make us work for her ferocity a bit more. She gave too soon and easily the full force of her anger. It was in the moments of silent derision at an unseen foe or the hissed “I am a child of resistance” through closed teeth that she was at her best.
I wanted a better understanding of her enemy. When she addressed the unseen adversary, was it the oppressors in Chimurenga or her people’s suffering during that revolution. She looked off into the distant light as she sneered, cajoled, fought, rebelled, and surrendered. If she would create this adversary more tactilely- through sound, knowledge, image – I would be able to face it with her. So powerful was her emotional experience that I wanted to feel, be hurt by, and rebel against this enemy alongside her.
In the very end, Nora addressed us with plain pain in her eyes. When recalling a particular type of orange juice, several women in the audience who shared the memory sighed and cried out. Her face, and the fist pounding on her leg, showed me how much she loved her homeland and how painful it is to be without it. I wondered if it is easier for her to be fierce- to share her strength and anger- than it is to share her love, fear, and sadness- because that came so much later. A glimpse of this earlier would have made me even more sympathetic to her battle.
Part of Nora’s power is her acknowledgement that the land of her birth is a part of her, and her simultaneous ability to excel in her current American world. I imagine a long struggle, but one which has made her steel, which has made her worthy, to carry the gift she gives.