He made a name for himself as part of the legendary dancing troupe The Rare Watts that was a national sensation during the 1990s with their Maasai influenced dance moves. Now, dancer and choreographer Anuang’a Fernando is bringing his dance right back to the roots, as it were, with an upcoming show called “Maasai Footsteps.”
“I am bringing the modern choreography to the traditional song and dance so when it finally gets on stage it will retain traditional elements while occupying space in a modern way to illustrate the development of Maasai movement,” says Fernando.
The dancer and choreographer who grew up in Kitengela and Magadi in the 1980s was introduced to the Maasai dance and tradition from an early age.
He was fascinated by the traditional dance that he compares to a wave with the rhythmic movement of the neck, the shoulders, the chest and back.
Traditionally, the voice is the instrument and this regulates the dance together with the feet and the jewellery (ornaments). The Maasai warrior displays his verve inside the circle formation where each one tries to outdo the other by jumping as high as possible. The more they sing and dance the more the songs thrust the warriors into a trance
For his latest production, Fernando has put together a group of 45 Maasai dancers taken from three different clans located in the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Magadi.
“Maasai Footsteps” signify the path taken from the past to the present. It reveals the evolution of culture and to show the value of our traditions in the current world,” explains Fernando.
In March this year, he carried out an exploratory visit to the Magadi and Amboseli accompanied by the Irish film director Steve Woods who is making a documentary about “Maasai Footsteps.”
He explained the concept to the dancers and then carried out an audition to select from the large group that turned up in the three areas.
The dancers are not professionals, rather he relied on raw talent from dancers in the villages who sing and dance as part of their daily routine.
“This is a show that will bring out the beauty of Maasai culture and the unique rhythm of powerful voices and dance,” says Fernando.
“The dance also illustrates the connection between the community and Mother Nature that is central to their survival.”
Each of the clan brings its own rhythm in voices and movements with traditional Maasai songs performed a cappella while the contemporary dance that Fernando performs is a tribute to the vigilance and confidence of the Maasai community.
According to him, the heritage of most Kenyan communities is rapidly disappearing and the Maasai are among the few communities who still hold on to their precious traditions despite all the influences that threaten this culture.
“Tradition is what makes a people who they are and if you lose it then you lose your identity,” says Fernando.
He describes “Maasai Footsteps” as a show that travels to the ancient times and connects to the present while revealing ‘how much of the present day culture is influenced by the past’
The choreographer exploits modern dance styles to tell a traditional story, using contemporary tools to place traditional dance in a modern setting.
Fernando was also inspired by contemporary Western dance especially “Bolero” a 1960 masterpiece by French born dancer, choreographer and opera director Maurice Bejart. “It is similar to the Maasai movement because of the waves that the dancers move back and forth
After his fame with the Rare Watts, Fernando has toured extensively around the world. “Rare Watts was a revolution because we successfully blended the traditional Maasai dance and club dance moves. That experience and relocating to Europe to learn contemporary dance and improvisation helped me explore more of the Maasai dance in the modern set up.”
After the first phase of the project earlier in the year that involved selecting the 45 dancers, rehearsals will begin in January next year and the “Maasai Footsteps” is set to premier in February 2020.
This is a massive leap from his 2007 show “A Journey Into The Future” that was performed with seven Maasai dancers. Some of his successful productions include “Maasai Vocals” in 2005 that toured Tanzania, Namibia and Djibouti and “Fusion Indo Maasai” which as the name suggests was a combination of Indian classical dance and traditional Maasai dance in 2007.
Fernando also choreographed “A Journey Into The Future” in 2008 and “ROMO” a collaboration with musicians Makadem on nyatiti and Isaac Gem on acoustic guitar, which was staged in Nairobi, before performances in Italy and France.
In 2015, he worked with more than 200 artists from Africa, and different parts of Europe on the production “Nouveau Monde”.