HOT on the heels of two work-in-progress performances of her climate-change cautionary tale The Ballad Of Blea Wyke at the Stilly Fringe last weekend, York theatre-maker, writer, spoken-word slam champion, university lecturer, poet and performer Hannah Davies is the associate artist for tonight and tomorrow’s performances of Bunker Of Zion in Bridlington.
Funded by Arts Council England, the first Collaborative Touring Network project with Arcade and The Old Courts brings a joyous and colourful celebration of Zimbabwean culture to St John’s Burlington Methodist Church at 7pm this evening and 2pm and 7pm tomorrow.
Musician, actor and performance artist John Pfumojena’s theatre piece will combine acrobatics and breakdance with a jazz and hip-hop vibe.
“Come and immerse yourself in something totally new at the Bunker; a taste of Zimbabwean theatre on your doorstep. Experience the artists’ stories through live music, dance and songs,” reads the invitation to a 60-minute performance devised by John with Kudzanai Chikowe, Tawanda Mapanda, Farai Nhakaniso and Niyi Akin. “Expect influences of jazz and hip-hop and the distinctive sounds of Zimbabwean instruments such as the mbire and marimba.”
Arcade’s Young Women’s Creative Company members have worked with the artists to share their individual stories and talents to make the show.
Introducing Bunker Of Zion in a blog, associate artist Hannah says: “Imagine a world without creativity; no stories, no dance, no music, no art. Self-expression is forbidden, on pain of death. Then imagine a secret bunker in that world. A place where people meet illicitly, to tell their tales, dance their passions, and save their souls.
“Bunker Of Zion is a performance experience created by John and his ensemble, rooted in the lived traditions and cultures of the Shona people, a vibrant explosion of music, storytelling, playfulness, and dance.”
When Hannah and the Collective met up with John, dancer Kudzanai Chikowe and musician Tawanda Mapanda for the first time, they spent time experiencing the Marimba music and learning the rhythms and dance that will define the show.
They were joined by Diana Logan, Arcade’s producer for the Bunker Of Zion project, who is a leader on Coventry University Scarborough’s Actor Training course in partnership with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
“Diana brought some of the course’s first graduating students along with her to join us for the sessions with John and his team,” Hannah’s blog continues.
“We all spent a joyful weekend in workshops that brought us together, clapping and dancing the Shona people’s traditional Mhande rhythm – a tempo that is used to call on higher powers and to connect with the wisdom of ancestors.
“Led by John and his ensemble, we all had fun embedding this tempo into our bodies, and though we started out with shuffling, giggling and getting claps and steps all over the place, by the end of the weekend we were all able to hold time together and move as one through the sequence.
“John taught us how essential rhythm is to their culture and likened the very nature of being human to a drum, the heart within us beating our life force out with every step we take through life.”
They also played playground games, an important Zimbabwean tradition. “As John said, ‘we are serious about playing’! We all worked together swapping and sharing games with Tawanda and Kudzanai while John played live music to support our running, jumping, leaping and laughing,” Hannah says.
“When you commit with full-focused intent to playing and being silly, the joyful energy you get in return is threefold, and I cannot wait to see how we bring audiences together in Bridlington to remind them of the simple life-affirming power of play.”
Recognising and celebrating our lineage and passing on stories on our own terms are key themes in Bunker Of Zion. “There was time in the weekend to swap stories and consider the way that we tell them,” says Hannah.
“The Shona people’s culture is an oral tradition, which means that storytelling and narrative is truly sacred. When stories are oppressed and silenced, the culture is destroyed. Whose story we tell, how we tell it, when, how and why, are all important factors within the imagined world of the bunker.
“In the workshop we shared snapshots, fragments and moments from our own ancestry, and thinking about how we celebrate and engage with stories and traditions from other cultures was a powerful way to end the weekend.”
All three performances tonight and tomorrow have sold out.