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Zimbabwe Projects 2009-2015

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Zimbabwe 2015
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At the end of March, after our fundraising, Xen Arts travelled to Harare with volunteer and freelance dance artist Lucy Crook who joined us from Dubai. We spent the next three weeks rehearsing with the young people, organising and presenting the Youth Festival. Gresham Nyaude led art classes for the children to create a bright colourful banner for the day while Brighton Chinyama, Benji Geza and Loraine choreographed and rehearsed. The children also found time amongst all the creativity to write letters to introduce themselves to the children in the dance groups in Norfolk.

This year wasn’t without it’s challenges. The situation in Zimbabwe changes very quickly so venues, artists and organisations that we have worked with previously were not always available which meant being adaptable and open to change was key to making our project successful. However after some initial set-backs our festival day eventually arrived and the children had an amazing time, taking part in workshops in the morning and performing their well-rehearsed dance pieces in the afternoon.

The workshops were led by breakers from the Royal Crew, Brian Geza’s Zvishamiso dancers, who taught traditional dance and Potato a popular Zimbabwean singer who led a group of young children in a rap workshop. After the excitement of trying new arts in the morning, lunch was served to around 150 artists and young people to regain energy for the performances ahead!

The afternoon kicked off with Metro Dancers from Chitungwiza a high density area of Harare. This group was about 30 young teenagers from Metro School who had created a piece about their school and their identity as teenagers in Zimbabwe. Our youngest group from Glen View Primary 4 then shared their performance which included singing, dancing and poetry to create a piece about verbal abuse in the home and the need for love and encouragement. This was group was led by Benji Geza and Loraine with input from the children. Mambo Dancers were our last youth group, again from Chitungwiza and led by Brighton Chinyama. They performed a very lively traditional dance piece with an amazing energy accompanied by powerful drumming and voices.

Artists who took to the stage to inspire our youth groups included Royal Crew (breakers), Zvishamiso Arts (traditional contemporary dance), Potato (singer) and Tirikoti Arts (traditional Mbira music). Thank you to all the young people and artists for taking part – it was an amazing day!

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Zimbabwe 2014

Zvishamiso Residency

This was the first trip back to Zimbabwe since 2011. It was good to be back! Brian Geza Artistic Director of Zvishamiso Arts had been in touch and we agreed to go to Harare to do a three week residency with the young dancers in his company.

What a fantastic three weeks teaching contemporary technique to 20 young people who are engaged with the Zvishamiso programme. The dancers did class in the morning and then worked creatively on themes given to them to create a work in progress to show their funders Meikels at the end of the three weeks. The young people were so enthusiastic and had an amazing amount of energy and commitment.

As well as learning contemporary movement they were also asked to incorporate their own styles to make solos, duets and group pieces to present at the informal sharing. These styles ranged from breakin’, traditional, street and commercial. It was amazing to see the passion, energy and creativity shared in the room and watch it all come together. Half way through our time together there was also a request for ballet classes! That morning for some reason we couldn’t use the hall so were squashed in a tiny room with chairs backed up as make-shift barres! Very sweaty and cramped but a real pleasure to pass on some of the basic ballet steps.

We also managed to find time to fit in a day’s workshop for young students aged 5-16yrs from Chipawo to come and experience contemporary dance with the Zvishamiso dancers helping out.

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Zimbabwe 2011

Well this was definitely a year to remember with our second mini Youth Festival becoming not so ‘mini’! With the help of musician Brighton Chinyama we brought together our two youth groups to perform their dance alongside talented Zimbabwean musicians, dancers and comedians. On the open air stage at Glen View Primary 4 in a high density suburb of Harare, the young people performed to a full audience of friends and family. The festival which was funded by the money we raised at Tongue Tied? earlier in the year.

As well as our festival another highlight of our trip this year was the night out to Reps Theatre. The Presbyterian Church runs a programme for children living on the streets of Harare. All the children from this programme who were involved in our dance projects were treated to watch a performance of dance and music by the National Ballet. It was their first experience of being in a theatre as the majority of their time is spent surviving on the streets. It was an escape from the harsh realities they face every day, giving them a chance to be children again laughing and excitable in anticipation of the night ahead.

These children then took to the stage at our own festival alongside our youth group from Glen View Primary 4. As well as the dancing, this year we included an art project where another group of talented children worked with professional Zimbabwean visual artists Marcus and Gresham Nyaude who helped them design their own artwork and paint them onto big canvases which then became wings for our stage.

At the end of the performances, there were a few friendly dance off competitions where all the children had a chance to show off their moves and were whittled down to the winner by a professional street dance crew from Bulawayo who also performed. Each child then received a certificate to acknowledge their hard work and participation in the 2nd Xen Arts Youth Festival.

To finish off the day, all those involved were treated to a hearty meal cooked by very strong ladies who had worked hard behind the scenes, making big pans of sadza, rice and chicken for the now very tired and hungry performers.

The children from town were bundled safely into a big bus with handfuls of snacks (kindly donated by Tereza Carter), crumpled certificates and hopefully some fond memories to keep safe for a rainy day! We all had a great time and would like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers who worked so hard to make this day so special ☺

Zimbabwe 2010

Just a quick update of what’s been going on with our projects since TongueTied? back in February earlier this year! We raised around £500 at the annual event which was great, so thank you to everyone involved for making it happen!

Kate Mummery and myself eventually got to Harare, Zimbabwe at the end of April…we nearly didn’t make it due to some low flying volcanic ash! Nevertheless we arrived in time to perform a duet as part of the National Ballet night at HIFA. (Harare International Festival of the Arts)

After this it was full steam ahead with teaching dance workshops to kids in underprivileged areas of Harare. Keep an eye out on the website for some pics! We worked with dancer– McDonald Julius from Zimbabwe’s Tumbuka and Lucy Crook who joined us from Dubai. These sessions were full of energy and lots of fun learning each other’s moves!

We have now set up three small youth groups. We are creating dance pieces with each one and aim to have a sharing with all the groups in early July. The original one is in Tafara and being taught by Zimbabwean outreach teacher Erina Sydney. The second is in an area called Highfields. These are being funded by the money raised from Tongue Tied?. The third group is in the Presbyterian Church in Harare centre which works with street kids. This is being taught by McDonald and funded by Lucy Crook.

At the same time, Kate has returned to London now and we are working on setting up communications between M.A.D. - our youth group in Hackney - and the group in Tafara, Zimbabwe. We are starting by helping the kids to write emails to each other and will hopefully develop this into their own personal website where they can share pictures and footage of their projects. This will give each group a clearer understanding of each other’s lives rather than the negative views we are always shown by the media.

Zimbabwe 2009

The money we raised from Tongue Tied? 09 enabled us to set up a small youth dance project in Tafara, a community just outside Harare.

I worked with Kate Mummery and Mathias Julius (dancers from the UK and Zimbabwe) to find a venue and run faster workshops in dance and drama.

The project is still in very early stages but with more funding we are aiming to establish a group then start an "exchange" which will link with the young people we are working with in London.

They can then send emails, video diaries etc to build up relationships an learn about each other's cultures.

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