Wisdom is something most of us would like to see more of in our lives, be it at home, in government, or even in shops where shopkeepers would be wise to keep their prices affordable.
Dance Centre Kenya will be offering up a heap of wisdom this coming weekend and on Huduma Day when they stage ‘Aesop’s Fables’ at Braeburn Theatre, Gitanga Road.
That is where we will have a chance to see John Sibi-Okumu play Aesop as he shares his fables with a dozen attentive children who will respond to his wisdom with delightful ballet dances.
“We asked John to play Aesop because we know the Greek philosopher was a wise man, and we know John is a wise man too,” says Cooper Rust, artistic director and founder-mother of Dance Centre Kenya.
Sibi Okumu is better known for being a poet, playwright, broadcaster, radio, TV, and film star than a reader of children’s fairy tales.
But he has often shared his oratorial skills, either teaching French in secondary schools or at international conferences where his trilingual talents in both French, English and Kiswahili have served to bridge disparate networks of people who need to communicate with one another.
Sibi is also a good friend of DCK and has worked with them in productions like Romeo and Juliet where he played the father of Romeo and now in ‘Aesop’s Fables’.
“I enjoy having attentive children as my audience, which is what I will have this weekend,” he tells BDLife.
DCK celebrated its seventh anniversary in June when it staged the third act of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Kenya National Theatre.
But since the Centre began, it has been teaching Kenyans about a form of dance that most people hadn’t ever heard of until she first came to Kenya in 2014 specifically went to teach children in under-served settlements.
One thing led to another until she finally agreed to start up the Centre with support from several dance-loving families. And since then, she has taught thousands of young people from all classes, ages, and sectors of Kenyan society.
“We currently have 500 students in this term alone,” Cooper tells BDLife. She has taught kids from Karen as well as from Kibera and Kuwinda. They have come from Muthaiga as well as from the outskirts of Ngong town.
She also has regularly reached out to friends in the States and fundraised under the NGO, Artists for Africa, so she can offer scholarships to children who want to dance but don’t have the means to buy the basics of ballet, such as the shoes.
Cooper also teaches children from age two years on up to a few in their 30s, although most of her students are in their teens or early 20s.
Many have done so well, they have gotten spaces to study overseas, mainly in the US and UK but also in Europe and the Middle East.
Aesop and his ancient Greek culture will set the tone for this youthful set of ballet performances to be given by DCK’s Junior Ballet Company on October 9th and 10th.
The dancers and Aesop as well as the young choreographers from Cooper’s senior company will all be dressed in togas similar to what was worn during Aesop’s day, Cooper tells BDLife.
The musical background will also have a Zorba the Greek quality, she adds, so the musical accompaniment will be lively and inspiring.
At DCK, children are not only taught ballet and a whole range of other dance styles (including hip hop, tap, and musical theatre).
Cooper also teaches youth how to choreograph ballet, a skill that has not been done anywhere else in Kenya.
The fruits of that training were first seen in 2019 when the Centre presented ‘The Tales of Mother Goose’. The whole show had been choreographed by members of her senior company.
Aesop’s Fables will be the second time that young dancers, almost 30 of them, ranging from ages 7 to 11, will perform dances choreographed by Cooper’s most advanced senior dancers.
They include Rani Shah, George Okoth, Shamick Otieno, Mitchelle Mulari, Watiri Dube, Aske Ballan, Catherine Abilla, Charles Irungu, Flora Liu, Alex Stow and Laila Kazziha.
Cooper hopes that her audiences will be filled with youngsters who will see that ballet can be fun for them.
But she encourages all lovers of the ballet to come watch how beautifully young ones can quickly pick up ballet skills.
It will also be an opportunity to hear that honey-tongued broadcaster and playwright share his storytelling skills.