Written by Timea Wharton-Suri, Curator & Program Director of dance Immersion
dance Immersion and Canadian Stage have teamed up to bring you a newly commissioned dance work by Casimiro Nhussi and Pulga Muchochoma centered around connecting with our ancestors and between generations to regain our strength and sense of purpose. MUKUTHÔ comes at a unique time and place, having its world premiere as part of Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park summer program in Toronto. We hear from Timea Wharton Suri, Curator and Program Director at dance Immersion who gives us an insider look at the beginnings of this creation and how the work landed at High Park.
Where did the idea of bringing Casimiro and Pulga together to create this work come from?
The idea of bringing Casimiro Nhussi and Pulga Muchochoma together to create a work for the first time began ruminating in my head as soon as I came to work with dance Immersion in the fall of 2020. Casimiro is a world-renowned musician, dancer, and artistic director from Mozambique with whose work I became familiar through his Winnipeg-based company, NAfro Dance Productions. He is an intense, mesmerizing performer who draws in audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I met Pulga soon after he moved to Canada from Mozambique as he was training at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Pulga was already an incredible technician and performer when he emigrated to Toronto, but I followed his growth and development as he integrated new forms into his practice while joining Toronto Dance Theatre as a full-time company member. Since then, Pulga has interpreted the works of many of Canada’s most renowned contemporary choreographers while touring the world. He also nourishes others through teaching and now choreographing his own works.
Two prolific artists of different generations from Mozambique who built such success in Canada but had not yet created a work together: artists so skilled at moving, educating, and entertaining audiences… I could not think of a better commission to pull together for one of the few in-person performances in Ontario since the start of the pandemic. Based on their distinct artistic practices, I knew that whatever they would come up with would be moving, engaging, and beautiful. I couldn’t wait to see what magic they created together.
Why is the work relevant now?
I did not know if they would want to take on this co-creation challenge during a pandemic, with Casimiro in Winnipeg and Pulga in Toronto. I did not know how the work would be created and what form their creation would take. And I did not know that Pulga had always deeply admired Casimiro as an artistic leader in Mozambique and Canada, though it is not surprising.
Thankfully, they said, “yes” to this commission. And what have they come up with?
MUKUTHÔ is a musical dance work that incorporates ritual, movement and drumming to depict the connection between two generations and between people today and their ancestors.
Casimiro and Pulga on MUKUTHÔ: “In African traditions, there is always a belief that we are connected to our ancestors. We believe that our ancestors are the ones that guide us, the ones who pave the path for us to walk through, the ones who turn on the light in the days of darkness, the ones that connect us with Mother Nature and teach us to love one another. Therefore, for Africans, it does not matter what part of the world we are living in, we are always connected and communicating with our ancestors and with Mother Nature. At this moment, we need to communicate with our spirits, our ancestors, and to Mother Nature. At this moment, we need to regain our strength and rejuvenate our souls. At this moment, we need to communicate with whatever we believe so that we can get up and continue with our journey.”
Given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, have been distanced from our loved ones, from live art, and from sharing space, I think they have answered the “why now” question quite succinctly with that poetic description of their work.
How did they create this work during the pandemic, with fluctuating stay-at-home orders and shifting provincial border restrictions?
Casimiro is in Winnipeg and Pulga is in Toronto, and they were always considering adding in another performer to the work.
Zoom was a helpful tool to get the concept of the work together, even if they could not yet get it into their bodies. Though they are from different cultures within Mozambique, Casimiro was aware of the ritual practice noted above performed by Pulga’s people of the Chuabo tribe. With all that we have experienced over the past year and a half, the artists felt this practice would help everyone who encounters it reconnect with their belief systems and with one another to help us move forward.
When it was time to work together in person, there was a new roadblock – provincial travel restrictions that would have made Pulga’s travel to Winnipeg for rehearsals difficult. But they hurdled this roadblock by meeting in Montréal. Casimiro was engaged as a teacher by Zab Maboungou in late June, so Pulga met Casimiro there and they launched into the first movement creation phase.
The next step was to meet in Winnipeg to complete the movement portions of the work when the travel restrictions lifted for those fully-vaccinated.
The final phase: Meet with Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison, the award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist who has been brought on as the third collaborator for the performance of the work. With only two weeks leading up to the performance, they are now finally completing the musical arrangements for the work and we can’t wait for everyone to experience and participate in this work!
The artists work in harmony to create a moving, intergenerational story or ritual and connection, sewn together with rousing music that the audience will get to participate in creating.
In the spirit of being together, MUKUTHÔ brings people closer through the sounds of music, encouraging audiences to join in on the performance by bringing their small percussion instruments or use your hands and feet to play along with the artists when prompted.
We are all ready to see this deeply engaging musical dance work come alive on stage!