Kira is a feel good evening of African dance. The West African word means “path”, and through the relentless rhythms of the djembe drum, we make the sacred connection with Mother Earth. The concert features virtuoso dancing and eye-popping African percussion.
Lua Shayenne is a much-admired Toronto choreographer and dancer who invited revered Guinean composer and choreographer Fara Tolno to set Kira, The Path|La Voie on her company. Tolno is on hand as lead djembe. The rest of the performers are dancers Shayenne, Kwasi Obeng-Adjei, Shakeil Rollock, and Kahamilou Zongo, and musicians Mikhail Parson and Ivan Klimov (djembe), Walter Maclean (dundun), and Benjamin Maclean (guitar). Joy Adjemian is the featured vocalist, and Tolno has also given her a fetching mid-performance solo. Tolno performs two astonishing percussion numbers, one on the djembe, and the other on a horizontal log or slit drum that my research tells me is called a krin.
Tolno has interspersed African traditional dance vocabulary with storytelling. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing African dance used in the narrative sense before. In the neo-traditional elements, the four dancers are in constant motion, negotiating through hard-driving solos, duets, trios and quartets with fierce energy. Their stamina is mind-boggling. All the spirited elements of West African dance are there such as windmill arms, high knee raises, flatfoot hops, and shuffle jumps. Tolno also shows a young woman being fought over by two men, and in a spirit of #metoo, she rejects the winner. There is also a section where a young man tries to learn from the spirit elders, while another dancer is possessed – all depicted within African dance vocabulary, and which I found the most surprising aspect of the evening. Never losing the rhythm, their bodies tell a story. Adjemian, in a complete change of pace, executes a graceful homage to the moon goddess, or perhaps she is Mother Earth herself. All is bathed in the evocative lighting of Sharon DiGenova, while Robyn MacDonald’s African-inspired costumes are attractive and colourful.
The music is glorious, and I would buy the score in an instant if it were available. The most surprising element is the use of the guitar. In contrast to the driving percussion and forceful chanting, Tolno has layered in gentle, rhythmic melodies reminiscent of reggae or Latin music, yet the two disparate musical streams work surprisingly well together – the intense and complicated percussion underlying the tender and calm melodic line. Mother Africa merges with the diaspora, because within the dance/music dichotomy of Kira, you see and hear hints of mambo, samba, calypso, and even hip-hop. As for Tolno himself, his hands move faster than a speeding bullet. Your eyes cannot keep up with his drum strokes, and the complex sounds he produces are a wonder. Kira is a show that is a feast for both the eyes and the ears.
Now truth be told, does Tolno make us feel that communion with the earth and the ancestors, or is this production mainly a dance and music show? The answer is, every member of the audience will respond differently. The creation of Kira was inspired by that sacred bond, and the result is an exciting theatrical experience. This Luminato concert is a wonderful way to escape the sturm und drang of these troubled times. Kira, The Path|La Voie leaves you on a high.
Luminato, Kira, The Path|La Voie, Lua Shayenne Dance Company, Fleck Dance Theatre, Jun. 6 to 9, 2019.