‘Umoja’ dances through history

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‘Umoja’ dances through history


A scene from “Umoja,” a historical extravaganza of South African music and dance. The musical runs through April 14 at the opera house at Seoul Arts Center. Courtesy of Seoul Arts Management

The South African musical “Umoja” uses strong percussion and dazzling dance to revisit the pain of apartheid and look forward to a future where people live in harmony.
The musical is again in Seoul after its successful run here in 2003 and 2004. The performance will run at the Seoul Arts Center till April 14.
“Umoja” premiered in London’s West End, and then began a world tour that took South African popular music and dance ― including “Pata Pata,” the pantsula jive, the venda snake dance and Ladysmith Black Mambazo ― to more than 26 countries.
The cast of 36 young singers, dancers, drummers and marimba players fills the stage with energy, sensual dancing, vibrant music and great singing. The musical tells stories that take place at different times throughout the country’s turbulent history. While the stories are separate, they all share the theme of overcoming grief and sorrow through hope.
“Umoja” is the creation of Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, and it was scripted and directed by award-winning theatrical creator Ian von Memberty.
The musical begins when the region was ruled by tribes. A chorus of dancers wear traditional costumes, and the sounds of drums echo on stage. Cape Town becomes industrialized, and apartheid begins. Brilliant club dances that were popular in this era in large cities, including Johannesburg, are performed. There are also painful moments reflecting the suffering of migrant laborers and their families.
The scene changes from secret clubs, called shebeens, where rhythmic tribal music accompanies intricate gumboot dancing, to the cultural melting-pot of Sophiatown.
There, soulful Afro-American gospel helps overcome the difficult reality, breathes hope for the future and frees itself from the constraints of the times. Young South Africans reject traditional South African music, which they thought was a way of giving in to oppression, and embrace new styles influenced by reggae, hip-hop, rap and house rhythms; as played by bands like Kwaito and Pantsula.
Describing the piece, the Daily Telegraph said, “They dance like demons, sing like angels and drum like magicians possessed.”
The musical continues at the Seoul Arts Center opera house till April 14, except on Monday. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekends. Ticket prices are 40,000 won to 120,000 won.

By Limb Jae-un Staff Writer [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]
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