- Unlock Art Kenya has been on a mission for the last five years.
- Evidence of that objective will be available this coming Saturday afternoon, 27 March, when the company will give a premiere performance of ‘Her Son’, an original dance theatre production at the Catholic University Auditorium from 5pm.
- Choreographed by Akweyu who cofounded the company in 2015 with David Kim Khisa, the lead dancer in the troupe, the production aims to dramatise the many challenges that women face in society.
Unlock Art Kenya has been on a mission for the last five years.
“We gave ourselves that name because we literally want to unlock the talent of young people in Kenya that we know is already there,” says UAK’s founder, Joel Akweyu.
Evidence of that objective will be available this coming Saturday afternoon, 27 March, when the company will give a premiere performance of ‘Her Son’, an original dance theatre production at the Catholic University Auditorium from 5pm.
Choreographed by Akweyu who cofounded the company in 2015 with David Kim Khisa, the lead dancer in the troupe, the production aims to dramatise the many challenges that women face in society leading ultimately to one mother’s empowerment.
“It’s the mother’s story as told by her son,” says Akweyu who adds that through a series of dances, the dramatic action will aim to portray the main trials a woman faces in life, from poverty to gender-based violence including female genital mutilation.
Khisa was also instrumental in developing the theme and structure of the story. “David was raised by a single mother who struggled to bring him up and send him to school. He told us her story and we realized that hers was reproduced by many women, not just in Kenya but around the world,” Akweyu says.
Lilian Nyambura, 21, will portray the mother and Kim Khisa, 25, will enact her son.
Theirs is also the age-range of the 10-person dance troupe, with only their main mentor, Akweyu being 27. As the senior member of the company, he also has several more years of professional dance experience than his youthful troupe.
Having graduated from Chesamisi High School in Bungoma, Akweyu came to Nairobi wanting to work in the performing arts. That is how he found his way to Kenya National Theatre where he says he met members of the Kenya Performing Arts Company. Founded by a group of Dutch artists intent on assisting Kenyan youth, KPAC embraced Akweyu who had a natural talefor dance. His potential was so promising that he was given a two-year scholarship to study dance and choreography in Utrecht, Holland at the Jongeren Theatre Link.
“It was a great learning experience for me. I especially loved choreography, but when I got back to Kenya in 2014, I realized the company was moving out of Nairobi, so I stayed one more year and then resigned,” he says. Admitting he wasn’t keen to accompany NPAC back to Western Kenya, Akweyu had met young Khisa in his last year at Kenya National Theatre and saw he was one of the most talented dancers in the group.
“Joel became my mentor, but then we decided to team up and start Unlock Art Kenya,” Khisa says who shared his personal story with Akweyu during the lockdown days of the pandemic. It was such a heart-wrenched story that the Elder decided there and then that their next production had to be based on gender-based violence, with Khisa’s mom being the unsung heroine of her son’s life.
‘Her son” is not the first production that the two have staged together. Practically from the outset, they have managed to create winning productions with captivating stories and dances. They have also had success in putting together a winning team of young dancers.
“We’ve auditioned all over the country. So our troupe consists of dancers from Nairobi as well as Kisumu, Bungoma, and Siaya,
The troupe has lost some members during the pandemic, but has gained others. A few of them will be performing with UAK for the first time on Saturday while others are more seasoned.
“In 2016, we won the Sanaa Theatre Award for best dance production for our performance at Alliance Francaise of ‘Souls’,” says Bruno Owiti, who’s a dancer as well as the group’s Business Manager.
After that, they performed ‘Shepherds of the Night’ at the Caeli Catholic Church in Karen in 2017, followed by “Souls: Rise from Sorrow” also at the Caeli Church and at Kenya National Theatre in 2018.
But in the case of ‘Her Son’, this story has extra-special significance, not only because it mirrors the life and struggles of Khisa’s mother. It is also important because it reflects a partnership that Unlock Art Kenya has with Mother’s Hope, an NGO dedicated to assisting vulnerable women, be they single mothers, abused women, or widows and orphans.
“Women’s empowerment is central to Women’s Hope mission, which is another reason we wanted to highlight the theme through dance,” Akweyu adds.