Nora Chipaumire & Souleymane Badolo’s Charming New Piece at DNA

Nora Chipaumire, Souleyman Badolo, and Obo Addy in "I Ka Nye" at DNA. Photo by Elle Chyun.

Nora Chipaumire and Souleymane Badolo’s new dance work Art/Family/Our Lives: I Ka Nye, at DNA through Sunday, Sept. 12, made me chuckle. A lot. Charmingly simple and straightforward, I Ka Nye explores the construction of family through movement, music, and text. It’s not an earth-shatteringly original work on its own, but as vehicle, it lets the personality of its creators shine through.

Watching Chipaumire dance was a pretty awesome experience. Tall and powerful, at the beginning she plays off as awkward, wearing her technique like an over-sized bathrobe. Turning on a beat from a large orange boom box, she tries to start moving to the rhythm over and over again, taking posture and then, as though failing to find the flow, ever so subtly dropping it. But as the sequence progresses, she inhabits the movement more and more, until she’s jumping up, clapping her hands, then pounding her fists on the floor in rapidly accelerating repeated phrase.

Badolo, in contrast, plays off as a charmer, his movement fleet-footed and fluid. As the two begin to flirtatious play off one another, his dancing becomes more and more ecstatic until Chipaumire’s character, having been thoroughly outdone, simply stops and eventually berates him for messing up the choreographer routine by showboating.

There’s a lot of wink-wink, nudge-nudge play towards the audience, as the pair–supported by musician Obo Addy, who doubles as a sort of comic foil–by turns perform and narrate a story (or is it a series of parallel stories?) about people of different sorts coming together to make a family, which in turn is the basis of society and community. Theatrically, it’s sort of Brechtian, the performers serving as characters themselves and in turn commenting on the work they’re presenting.

About halfway through, the choreographed narrative and inhabited characters give way, and Chipaumire stops to tell a story directly to the audience that will serve as the basis for the rest of the piece, with several movement sequences inserted into the monologue. Generally I always question the wisdom of choreographers using too much text in their work (the results rarely compare well with the movement component, and it tends to reduce the overall work by simplifying it), but at least I can say that Chipaumire has a great deadpan delivery. All of the performers are African by background, and she played on ethnic presumptions by making resigned overtures to Africanize the narrative.

In the end, I Ka Nye risks being a bit saccharine (having an older guy get down to James Brown is as easy bit), but it gets the job done that it sets out to, and with aplomb. It certainly left me wanting to see Chipaumire’s other work.

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