Nora Chipaumire; photo by Mkrtich Malkhasyan, from the film Nora by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton.
FP: In addition to referencing the violent beginnings of the Mugabe regime.
NC: That’s true: gukuruhundi can refer to the present as well as the past, and we are playing with both, absolutely.
FP: Watching a bit of your rehearsal, your dancing was surprisingly celebratory. Not light, but it doesn’t feel like a lamentation or a eulogy.
NC: Well it shouldn’t, because Zimbabwe’s not dead! [Laughs] It may be down on it’s knees, but it’s not dead, you know? Change is happening, but it’s a process, the same as decolonization and independence were. I’m interested in showing the beauty of the Zimbabwean people and our love for life. We can’t just focus on the death and the dying — we’re a smart, elegant people with a ridiculous sense of humor. We love to dance, laugh, and make beautiful music.
FP: How is the dynamic between you and Thomas?
NC: Super. He’s a really generous man and, I have to say, fearless about this project. “Who? What? Dance? Okay, what kind of dance? Whatever, let’s do it.” [Laughs] It was so encouraging for a contemporary dancer like myself. I’ve always admired choreographers who are able to work with Philip Glass or whoever. Thomas is a superstar — much more important than I am. [Laughs]
FP: Working with him brings your goals closer.
NC: He’s not afraid to make a really good hook. What’s the shame in just dancing? Why does it have to be so abstract and obtuse that nobody gets the point, you know? I’m trying to lose some of that. You train in some school for contemporary dance and it just gets so heady and abstract. I’m trying to regain the emotional power, the sheer visceral and physical power that connects one human being to another, because if we can make that connection then we’re able to have a conversation.
FP: About the larger issues.
NC: That surround life! That surround capitalism, that surround Africa, fair trade, aid — we want a fair playing field, not aid and donations. We are not beggars, we are a productive people, full of pride. I’m taking down this perception of Africa as a continent of beggars, of people who cannot stand on their own two feet saying, “Send us food.”
FP: Which is difficult, given all the economic and political structures in place to perpetuate that.
NC: All brands exist to make someone money. A starving Africa is like Nike: it’s a brand that sells.
Main image: Nora Chipaumire; photo by Antoine Tempe.