Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Lua Shayenne is both a dance revolutionary and a visionary dancer, as audiences will see at this year’s Luminato Festival. Lua Shayenne Dance Company (LSDC), which she founded in 2011, is premiering KIRA, The Path | La Voie, commissioned from acclaimed choreographer and composer Fara Tolno. According to the press release, the lively KIRA celebrates “humanity as one village and its sacred bond to nature”. Running from June 6 to 9 at the Fleck Dance Centre, the production is suitable for all ages, and features a cast of dancers and percussionists with 11 different types of African beats and original sounds. Their chants and drum beats invoke the wisdom of Mother Earth, and echo an elemental warning that the invisible cord linking people to their home grows fragile.
Shayenne is a dancer and choreographer of Ghanaian and Italian descent, born and raised in the Ivory Coast and now based in Toronto. The aesthetics of West African culture and dance inspire her unique choreographic works, which seek to problematize stereotypes and conventions. Lua Shayenne Dance Company has a mandate to explore contemporary subjects in order to spark social change and be a source of spiritual progress. The company also promotes cross-cultural exchange and collaboration with national and international artists – in this case with the renowned Tolno. As one of the most influential African artists of this generation, his works bring an innovative perspective to African dance and music that is steeped in the culture of his native Guinea.
As KIRA opened at Luminato, Shayenne spoke with SesayArts about the inspiration, genesis and development of this vibrant and evocative new work.
SesayArts: Can you speak to us about the concept of KIRA, The Path | La Voie and what inspired you to commission the work from Fara Tolno?
LS: I wanted to present a dance work that was rooted in traditional African music and dance but reflected the contemporary reality I live in.
Fara Tolno is greatly aware of the evolution of African rhythms outside of the continent. In KIRA, he makes an obvious musical link between traditional rhythms and its progeny such as hip hop. I also prefer speaking to current issues through music, dance and song because they speak directly to the audience’s spirit and heart.
SesayArts: I’ve read that KIRA has been developed over 3 years. What has the developmental journey been like, and what will be performed at Luminato?
LS: I have developed greatly as a producer and artistic director. Managing people is extremely challenging; everybody has a different personality and different needs. I also learned new skills in administration to help me become a more rounded leader.
I’ve had the unique opportunity to deepen my understanding of the Mandé rhythms. Mandé is a vast region in West Africa where multiple ethnicities coexist. The diversity and beauty of West African rhythms and dances is too immense to learn them all in one lifetime. It’s an ongoing journey.
I am also on a continuous exploration of movement rooted in a sacred place. The rhythms featured in KIRA all have a meaning and celebrate humanity in different and very specific ways.
SesayArts: What can audiences expect at KIRA, and what do you hope that they will think about as a result of experiencing it, both in terms of dance as well as their relationship to the environment?
LS: They can expect to be lifted off their seats by the infectious rhythms in KIRA and hopefully physically feel the connection to the ground, the soil we live on, through the beat of the drum and the chants of our ancestors reminding us that we should treat each other respectfully and with compassion, regardless of belief and belonging.
SesayArts: How do you think that KIRA will speak to contemporary audiences, many of whom might get their introduction to a neo-traditional African dance form from KIRA?
LS: Music and dance speak to the heart. The audience responds instinctively to sound and beats. They will be able to connect to different aspects of African dance and music and explore one of the cultural influences that have shaped Canada
SesayArts: The final word is yours. What would you like to add that I haven’t asked?
LS: KIRA is an homage to the African continent and an acknowledgement of the world’s incredible natural resources, not to be taken for granted.
News You Can Use
What: KIRA, The Path | La Voie (World Premiere), produced and commissioned by Lua Shayenne (Shayenne Productions) and co-presented with Lua Shayenne Dance Company and the Luminato Festival 2019; choreography and musical composition by Fara Tolno
Performed by Lua Shayenne Dance Company and Fara Tolno
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: June 6 – 9, 2019; Running Time: 75 minutes (one intermission)
Where: Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON M5J 1A7
Info and Tickets: luminatofestival.com
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019