South African choreographer explores sacrifice in spellbinding show

By Ollia Horton with RFI
South Africa  Rob Mills
JUL 25, 2022 LISTEN
© Rob Mills

"The Sacrifice" by South African choreographer Dada Masilo is a fusion of contemporary dance and a ritual dance from Botswana, known as Tswana. Inspired by the innovative rhythms of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" she has brought together twelve dancers and four musicians for the Avignon Festival, 2022.

Born and raised in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo is known for merging classical techniques with African dance steps to create a unique style.

Her latest creation "The Sacrifice" was performed as part of the Avignon international theatre festival in July, 2022.

She was inspired by "The Rite of Spring", written by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in 1913 for Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Ballet company.

Originally choreographed by Vaslav Nijinskyt, it depicts various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, after which a young girl is chosen as a sacrifice and dances herself to death. Its première in Paris caused a stir, due to its avant-garde nature.

"I have always liked to mix dances from different cultures. These encounters between cultures sometimes oppose each other," she told journalist Moïra Dalant for the Avignon Festival, adding that she gets inspiration from that contrast.

"I titled my work "The Sacrifice" because the piece questions the choice we must make collectively of who or what will be sacrificed."

Masilo explains that this concept resonates with the principle of the collective in the Tswana ritual dance from Botswana which is used for many occasions – from weddings to funerals or in healing ceremonies.

Exploring the ills of modern society

"'The Sacrifice" recounts a certain inhumanity of our contemporary world, of its individualistic and discriminating pitfalls," Masilo says.

"There is no balance, no fairness. We live in an era of every man for himself, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is for me to tell a purge, a way of making a clean sweep in order to start again with a neutral and new ground."

Stravinsky's score for "The Rite of Spring" contains many innovative features for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance. Masilo says this strongly impacted the way she approached the choreography.

"I wanted to combine different genres of music, because in the company, we have Tswanas, Xhosa, Zulus. It's a whole medley of people who speak different languages," she told RFI's Muriel Maalouf.

It was important to her to make the work culturally inclusive so that no-one felt left out.

Performing at the Avignon Festival is above all the chance to share her art with a live audience, especially since the Covid pandemic hit the performing arts industry so hard.

"Not being able to dance was harsh. It felt like the biggest sacrifice that I've ever made," she told RFI.

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