- Once Ballet Kenya Studio chose to team up with Sarakasi Trust to stage a performance showcasing the best of both groups, the comparison and contrast of the two was inevitable.
- One troupe being top notch and decent, the other wild and noisy, it was clear from the moment we saw the ballerinas and then the contemporary dancers that the show would alternate in high contrasts.
It was not a fair fight!
Not that last Saturday’s “Dance Extravaganza” should have been seen as a battle between two different dance companies and two different schools of thought.
But inevitably, once Ballet Kenya Studio chose to team up with Sarakasi Trust to stage a performance showcasing the best of both groups, the comparison and contrast of the two was inevitable.
One troupe being top notch and decent, the other wild and noisy, it was clear from the moment we got to see the ballerinas and then the contemporary dancers that the show would alternate in high contrasts.
The main difference between the two sets of dancers is that one set are students while the other are seasoned professionals. What they have in common is that both are technically made up of dancers and they both deserve to have better visibility with the public for all the hard work they have put in to train young talent. Kenyans.
But after that, the differences are glaring and stark. BKS is deeply rooted in the Western tradition of ballet while Sarakasi has specialized in the development of contemporary African dance for over a decade.
Ballet emphasizes grace, balance, carefully measured movements and elegance of form. In contrast, Sarakasi’s choreography focuses on fast, percussive, rhythmic and perfectly measured yet seemingly wild bodily activity, as every muscle, tendon and limb seems to be in constant motion at high speed.
It is reminiscent of the choreographers who are all experienced dancers as well as dance designers. But again, ballet director Charmaine Smith is steeped in Western tradition, having performed around the world before becoming a teacher, choreographer and founder of BKS just ten years ago.
The Sarakasi choreographic team are both Kenyans. Oscar Mwalo and Aggie the Dance Queen are seasoned dancers who have been with the Trust for years. But their specialty is to merge extreme athleticism and acrobatics with contemporary African dance to bring a performance style that is uniquely that of Sarakasi.
Then comes the costume. BKS dancers were simply dressed in leotards, tights and tutus for the girls and white tights and t-shirts for the young men. The girls were predominantly black, which probably would have worked well for younger men, as their white shirts looked too casual for a KNT production.
Again, in contrast, the dancers in Sarakasi wore brightly colored African patterns and changed their costume for almost every number they performed.
Carefully designed so as not to interfere with their rigorous dance workouts or acrobatic jumps, their costume changes caused interruptions in the production flow. But an enthusiastic audience was pleasantly patient with the shortcomings and small expectations.
One of the biggest contrasts between the alternating performances was the music. One was quite Western with songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and Adele’s theme song from James Bond, “When the Sky Falls”. Beautiful music and graceful dancing.
But the pace quickly picked up once Sarakasi’s percussive selections, mostly West African sounds, introduced another hot number, performed by young people ready to pour out all their passion and love of storytelling using their own. bodies to tell their different stories.
Finally, the age of the dancers also made a difference in the presentation of the alternating ensembles. The majority of BKS dancers were young people and ballet beginners with no more than six or seven in their teens and early twenties who often shared the stage with young people.
Meanwhile, the Sarakasi dancers were all probably in their twenties and maybe a little older. The point is, these are prime-time young dancers whose priority in life (one might assume) is dancing in the most dazzling, eye-catching style. And dancing professionally is probably their dream of a lifetime.
The Dance Extravaganza was therefore an opportunity to see two very different kinds of dance right here in Nairobi. Both dance centers are run by remarkable women. Charmaine Smith is from the south of the country and moved here in 2010, while Marion Op het Veld is from the Netherlands and has been based at the Sarakasi Dome for over two decades.
His dancers perform both locally at the Dome (former Shah Cinema) and privately at corporate receptions as well as abroad when invited to festivals and international fairs.