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Art

Theatre comes alive in a pre-holiday season rush

Nifa Omondi
George Okoth and Nifa Omondi will be in Dance Centre Kenya's The Nutcracker. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU  

Three Kenyan dancers will be performing the Christmas classic, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on three separate continents next month. Two will be starring as the Snow Cavalier, one in Nairobi, the other in South Carolina, USA. And the third Kenyan, though still a student at the English National Theatre Ballet School in London, has been picked to be the only one of his peers to dance professionally with the National Ballet.

Lawrence Ogina, who is currently an engineering student at University of South Carolina, will perform as the Cavalier opposite Dance Centre Kenya’s Cooper Rust, who will be the guest artist in the USC’s production, performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Cooper, who is currently rehearsing The Nutcracker with her own DCK cast, will fly to the US this weekend to meet with her former student with whom she danced last year.

“We performed in the same roles a year ago,” recalls DCK’s artistic director who has trained all three Kenyan dancers, including the 15-year-old George Okoth who she began teaching dance even before DCK was formed, back when she was working regularly in Kibera in 2012. George, who is one of a number of dancers that Cooper kept teaching once DCK was formed, will be the Nairobi Snow Cavalier.

The other dancer Cooper started teaching in Kibera back when her makeshift dance “studio” had no mirrors or polished floors was the “boy wonder” Joel Kioko. He was the first student that Cooper took under her wing and vowed to prepare him to attend summer dance classes with friends in South Carolina (where she comes from). Having seen his immense potential for ballet, she also tutored him academically so he could pass all the tests required for him to get into one of the most prestigious ballet school in the UK.

“Joel isn’t dancing in a leading role, of course,” Cooper says. “But it is wonderful for him to have been chosen to dance the whole month of December with the National Ballet.”

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George, together with the DCK cast will open in its annual production of the Nutcracker December 1 at the Oshwal Centre. DCK’s Gala performance of the ballet being performed literally all over the world before Christmas is December 7 and Dember 8 at Kenya National Theatre.

Sadly, I missed last weekend’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant ballet by the Academy of Dance and Art. But an offshoot of the academy is the contemporary dance group founded by the school’s choreographer Arnie Umayam. His Origins Dance company will perform Unflow on November 30 at 7pm at Alliance Francaise.

Tonight, Nice Githinji directs Bilal Mwaura’s newest script, entitled Radicals at Kenya National Theatre. Her cast consists of students that she has been training over the past few months. The first appearance of these newcomers to the national stage was in Mwaura’s previous script, Roll the Dice which Nice also directed.

With Radicals, Mwaura has scripted a political story about a squad calling themselves the Golden Warriors Revolutionary Front. The playwright-actor describes his play as “high-adrenaline” so we had best go see it for ourselves.

Tonight, Brookhouse School is hosting Rainmaker Ltd’s Fifth edition of the NBO Musical Theatre Initiative featuring portions of four of the 15 original productions which will be staged in Kampala during its Sixth International Theatre Festival from November28-30. The four musicals are Pani Puri, The Gospel of Apostle Dennis, Weaver Bird, and Kabeseke.

Starting next weekend, the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio and University of Nairobi’s Theatre of the Absurd in association with UON’s Law School are staging The Illegitimate Twin a musical from November 28 to December 1, at UON Towers’s Chandaria Centre for Performing Arts. Directed by Stuart Nash, the musical stars Martin Githinji, Bilal Wanjau and Umi Rajab. Umi (best known for her role in the film Na Sisi) plays a maid and mother of seven from Kawangware whose life gets complicated once she discovers she’s having twins. The two are played by James Mwangi and James Mwinami. Unable to raise them both, she makes consequential decisions that you need to see for yourself.

Finally, John Sibi Okumu can never be far from the theatre scene. Last night he inaugurated the theatrical side of Paul Onditi’s Kwawangwana with a performance of his poetry as well as poems by other African poets. And Sibi Okumu’s Kaggia is coming back to the Kenya National Theatre with Martin Kigondu in the title role.

One last word: Sanaa Theatre Awards are happening December 17 at KNT.

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