Watch Out Cirque du Soleil, Here Comes Umoja

cirque_du_soleil.jpgI never thought I’d see a show that rivals the magic of Cirque du Soleil.

I recently enjoyed the Cirque’s Alegria, the last performance of which was delivered in Dubai in April. It was the fifth time I’ve experienced the Cirque since I first saw them during the Arts Festival held in conjunction with the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary in 1988. Since then they have risen from virtual anonymity to an internationally acclaimed entertainment company.

Each Cirque show is a unique piece of dazzling theatrical art involving dozens of athletes, artists and entertainers. The costumes are astonishing, the feats of strength  and acrobatics are breathtaking, and the staging is brilliant. It’s a tough act to top.

umoja_tribal1.jpgBut the exuberant high-energy African show called Umoja, though much smaller in scale, is equally powerful.

Simply put, Umoja (which means 'spirit of togetherness'), is the story of the evolution of African music recounted, not surprisingly, through song, dance and drums.

What it may lack in size and complexity, compared with the Cirque at least, Umoja more than makes up for in heart and soul. It’s passionate, pulsating and absolutely thrilling to behold.

The fitness levels of the singer/dancers is astonishing - they perform continuously for more than two hours (with only one a short break). They make multiple costume changes and execute dance routines that require incredible skill, strength and endurance.

The reviews speak for themselves:

Enough energy to light up London. I defy anyone to leave this hit dance musical feeling anything less than elated."
Daily Telegraph, London
A jaw-dropping spectacle.
NOW, Canada
I have never seen such energy and grace on stage and the finale had the audience on their feet for standing ovation after standing ovation.
Irish World
They dance like demons, sing like angels, and drum like magicians possessed.
The Daily Telegraph, England
A breath-taking and vibrant spectacle, which assails every one of your senses. Definitely the hottest show in town.
The Northern Echo, London

Big, Beautiful, Strong Women

Umoja is the creation of two African women, Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, who first met as young schoolgirls in Soweto, and whose paths would later cross as they each pursued careers in entertainment.

umoja_zulugirl.jpgOne of the aspects of the show that struck me most was the powerful physicality of the female singer/dancers who comprise half of the Umoja troop. No frail or fragile shrinking violets amongst these. No Ma’am!

These are big, beautiful, strong women with ATTITUDE. Muscularly “Rubenesque” women with curves, and folds, and a LOT more flesh on their bones than will be found on their catwalk colleagues. Confident, sexy, sensual women, who in most of their shows (though not in Dubai), proudly spend part of their on-stage time bare-breasted in the tradition of their foremothers.

These are gloriously beautiful and superbly talented young African women, role models for their countrywomen, and for the rest of us. They prove yet again that confidence and carriage are much greater determinants of beauty than body weight, shape and size.

Congratulations Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni on your magnificent creation. Congratulations to all the young singers, dancers and drummers (female AND male), who comprise Umoja.

Thank you all for your passion, your energy and your exuberance – and for spreading the spirit of togetherness around the world with your compelling story told in such an extraordinary way.

No doubt even the folks at the Cirque du Soleil are sitting up and taking notice.

Here are a couple of tasters, though to be honest, they don't even come close to the real thing:

(Be forewarned: there are bare-breasted women in these videos;

if you that is offensive to you, please do not watch them):

Related links:
AWR Music, Dance & More