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Tumbuka to bloom bold at National Arts Festival

Published on 11 May 2015

Unflinching Harare-based dance company Tumbuka to stage production that grapples with the Zimbabwean psyche through a vigorous vocabulary of contemporary dance

Saying a resolute no to xenophobia by their very presence at this year’s National Arts Festival, Zimbabwe’s leading dance company Tumbuka will be staging a production that explores the ‘Zimbabwean self, focusing on the masculine presence, through dance, movement and space’.

South Africa’s biggest arts event runs from 2 to 12 July in Grahamstown.

‘Portrait of Myself as My Father’ was co-created by New York-based Zimbabwean performer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire in 2014 when she visited Zimbabwe as part of a research tour of four African cities supported by the New York Live Arts Suitcase fund.

Since the company’s inception in the early 1990s under the dynamic leadership of British choreographer Neville Campbell, Tumbuka have been making bold and passionate statements. Narrated through a uniquely Zimbabwean movement vocabulary that is at once vigorous, energetic and direct, they have tackled social issues ranging from the AIDS struggle, to Rwandan genocide, to first-hand accounts of the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe. ‘With contemporary dance you can talk about anything in life,’ says Tumbuka dancer Mathias Julius. ‘Any issue that we need to talk about, we do.’

‘kuTumbuka’ is a Shona word meaning ‘to flower or bloom’ and this is a company that truly lives up to its name. Tumbuka rose to international acclaim in the 1990s, touring extensively throughout Africa and Europe. But the company almost collapsed in the early 2000s, with the withdrawal of donor funding and many of the country’s leading dancers leaving for elsewhere.

Undeterred, they have battled on under impossible circumstances to keep dance alive in Zimbabwe. They return to the National Arts Festival this year with fresh energy following a winning performance of ‘Portrait of Myself as My Father’ at the Johannesburg Dance Umbrella in February.

‘Chipaumire spent two months in the studio with the Tumbuka dancers in a research process that explored Zimbabwean movement and identity, the culmination of which is a 50-minute work for 10 dancers and three musicians,’ says Tumbuka Dance Company spokesperson Anna Morris. ‘She donated her work to the Tumbuka repertoire in an effort to help us emerge from a decade of difficulty and re-establish our identity as a premier African contemporary dance company.’

In ‘Portrait of Myself as My Father’, Chipaumire ‘celebrates masculinity, male presence and representation, the black African body and performance’.

Breaking through the current fearful climate of xenophobia to bring Grahamstown audiences the best of contemporary Zimbabwean expression, Tumbuka’s performances at this year’s National Arts Festival are bound to be heartstopping.

Tumbuka will perform ‘Portrait of Myself as My Father’ on 3 July (12 noon and 4pm) and on 4 July (12 noon and 8pm). Tickets are R65 to R70. Book your tickets here or read more about the production.

Image: Courtesy Dance Umbrella 2015


The National Arts Festival is grateful to its presenting sponsors: the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Standard Bank, the Department of Arts and Culture, and the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture. City Press and M-Net are our media partners.


The National Arts Festival is an important event on the South African cultural calendar, and the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent. This year it runs from 2 to 12 July 2015 in the small university town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, tours (of the city and surrounding historic places) as well as a children’s arts festival. As no censorship or artistic restraint has ever been imposed on works presented in Grahamstown, the Festival served as an important forum for political and protest theatre during the height of the apartheid era, and it continues to offer an opportunity for experimentation across the arts spectrum. Its significance as a forum for new ideas and an indicator of future trends in the arts cannot be underestimated.


A committee of experts in the various disciplines selects the content of the Main programme. The planning process takes into account what is available locally and from outside South Africa. Three considerations that influence decisions are the artistic merits of any submission, the creation of a varied and balanced programme, and the costs involved.


Gilly Hemphill
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Twitter: @artsfestival