Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I went to see a dance performance by a new dance company, Destino, at the Alliance Ethio-française a few days ago. The show was quite impressive particularly the choreography performed by disabled dancers, called Tilla. Disability is still quite a stigma in Ethiopia, so to show openly and dance one’s physical impediment is quite a statement here. The dancers were moving on the stage with their crutches as part of the choreography. In one piece, more able dancers were lifting them up so they could gracefully stretch their legs or do a full split in the air. In the course of the performance, one of the disabled dancers read a statement (in Amharic but then translated into English) explaining that dance allowed him to get out of the cage he was stuck in because of his weakened body. He also reminded the audience that anybody could become disabled at any time, so perception towards disability should change.
Unlike other contemporary dance companies, Destino’s purpose is to improve lives through dance and the arts. It tries to recruit dancers from impoverished backgrounds such as street kids or people who suffer from disabilities. The company was born out of a performance by Ethiopian contemporary dancers Junaid Jemal Sendi and Addisu Demessie which toured the UK in 2009. They were both street kids when they started dancing 17 years ago with another company called Adugna Community Dance Theatre Company, the first community dance company set up in Addis in the mid 1990s to help people with disabilities or illnesses such as HIV reach their potential through dance. At the time, Adugna selected 100 children from the slums of Addis to perform to the music of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff at the City Hall in Addis. The actual story of Carmina Burana (Adugna in Amharic), especially the opening sonnet O Fortuna which is a complaint about fate and fortune, resonated with the underpriviledged communities of Addis.
After his training with Adugna, Junaid started travelling to perform in international dance festivals. In 2004, he was one of the youngest dancers to win the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative Award for Dance and Choreography. This award gave him the opportunity to work with an established mentor for a year on a one-to-one basis. This cooperation led him to perform Destino in 2009 at Sadler’s Wells in London, one of the most prestigious venues for cutting edge contemporary dance, with Addisu Demessie as well as a number of very established UK dancers. Destino Dance, which intends to continue develop contemporary dance practice alongside traditional Ethiopian dancing, is now establishing a three-year training programme in dance, drama, music, choreography for street children, orphans and young offenders in Ethiopia.
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