Stephens College guest artist brings art of contemporary African dance

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 6:16 p.m. CST; updated 10:47 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011
On Feb. 25, Tawanda Chabikwa and some of his students from Stephens College performed contemporary African dance for the public. In this video, Chabikwa explains why he teaches his art and what he hopes it will give to his students.

COLUMBIA — Dancers at Stephens College will present a contemporary piece that represents political violence in Africa during its spring concert that concludes this weekend.

The piece, "Blanco Never Cried," was choreographed by Tawanda Chabikwa, a guest artist at Stephens for a month this semester.

Stephens College Spring Dance Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Macklanburg Playhouse, 100 Willis Ave.

Admission: $12 for general public, $6 for students and seniors

Chabikwa described the piece as a way to show how people exclude each other from certain groups. He made a short film about the African contemporary work in 2010, explaining his inspirations and the ideas he tried to express with the choreography. The piece is seven minutes long and features seven dancers.

"I'm doing it with the idea of inclusion and exclusion," said Chabikwa in an interview before his guest residency ended March 3. "It's very short, very fast and dynamic."

The Stephens College Dance Company will perform the work at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Macklanburg Playhouse.

Chabikwa, a dancer, choreographer, writer, photographer and artist, was born and raised in Zimbabwe. During the spring term at Stephens, he taught world dance classes for about 45 students.

"As a young African contemporary artist, I'm still growing and learning," he said. "African contemporary arts is very dynamic, it's growing a lot, and you can't really, truly define it in any way."

African contemporary dance is more a philosophy of being rather than just techniques, he said. Through his travels, he has also found influence for his works in Eastern philosophy.

"It has technique to it," Chabikwa said, "but it's more about how you perceive and approach the movement, how you perceive and approach yourself."

In his paintings, sculpture, photography and other visual arts, he said he is also searching for his own voice.

"If you can't say something in words, then paint it if you can," he said.

Chabikwa sells his artworks, raising money for his non-profit organization ndini wako, meaning "I am yours" in English. It funds the education of orphans in Zimbabwe.

The volunteer organization money focuses on one school in a particular region. Currently, ndini wako is taking care of 27 children in the Mudzamiri Primary School, providing them with food, uniforms and lodging, as well as their schooling. The organization also tries to provide medication to children who are HIV positive.

As a native of Zimbabwe, Chabikwa's native language is Shona. Traditional dance was part of his childhood. He started doing ballroom dancing in the elementary school, and later, he studied martial arts. After getting a scholarship to study in Hong Kong, he took up modern dance.

With another scholarship, he enrolled in the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he got his bachelor's degree in human ecology. He also holds a master's degree in fine arts from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and said he plans to get a Ph.D. at The Ohio State University.

He published his first novel, "Baobabs in Heaven," in 2010. The novel is inspired by his experience in Africa, and he called it semi-autobiographical.

"I started to write fiction. I started from a place of truth, start with real events, and slowly they become something else," Chabikwa said.

From Africa to Asia to America, Chabikwa said he's comfortable with being in new places, and this also influences his art.

"When I started, it has to do with the identity, considering how much I was traveling all over the world," he said.

"I was trying to see why it makes sense to me, trying to figure out what it is about my identity, about my cultural identity, who I am. I was trying to figure out how to bring African culture into all the other things I was learning."

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