Nora Chipaumire

Dancer-choreographer Nora Chipaumire offers a glimpse of “the real Africa” in the world premiere of Lions Will Roar, Swans Will Fly, Angels Will Wrestle Heaven, Rains Will Break: Gukurahundi, created and performed with musician-poet-activist Thomas Mapfumo and his band Blacks Unlimited. Chipaumire—who exiled herself from Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in 1989 and now lives in the U.S.—says that her aim in this piece is to confront the “packaging” of Africa as an exotic land of safaris, violence, and famine. The samples I saw on DVD were decidedly low-key, driven by the quiet, efficient engine of Mapfumo’s mbira playing. But the title’s final word, gukurahundi (“early rain”), refers to the Matabeleland massacres, carried out by the Mugabe government from 1982 to 1986, and Chipaumire’s simple moves are electrified by passion. (When she won a Bessie in 2007, the award committee cited her “towering, incandescent presence.”) Though she’s a contemporary dancer, Chipaumire’s ritualistic repetitions suggest traditional African modes. In one sequence, a series of hand gestures—a cheery hitchhiking motion, a mudra, a thumbs-up, an “OK”—devolves until she’s struggling, her arms seemingly pinned behind her. 10/1 and 10/3-10/4, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, $25. —Laura Molzahn