The Malta Independent 22 February 2024, Thursday
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Born To dance

Malta Independent Saturday, 29 July 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 12 years ago

Josanne Cassar interviews the multi-talented Bawren Tavaziva, who was recently invited to Malta by Francesca Abela Tranter and the Contact Dance Company to give a dance workshop

With his slight build and shy, mild manner, Bawren Tavaziva seems like a different person from the strong, powerful dancer that he becomes when he goes up on stage. But music has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Born in Zimbabwe in 1976, dancing came as naturally to him as breathing.

“I started dancing and singing when I was really young. My brother and I used to have a group, there were five of us and we used to imitate Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, and the New Edition. I started drifting more towards dancing when I was much older. The National Ballet of Zimbabwe started a project in the ghetto where I lived and that’s how I started.”

As a young man learning classical dance, he didn’t face the same prejudice one finds in Malta.

“Back home there is no stigma if a man dances, because everybody dances – Africa is like that. There is no taboo regarding ballet either, it’s acceptable. I think I was lucky that way.”

Are you a natural ballet dancer?

“I found ballet very, very difficult. Later on I also studied the Cecchetti Ballet method but I found contemporary much easier and I really enjoyed it. However, you always need to be trained in classical ballet for every kind of style you do – it cleans it up, it makes it much stronger.”

As he points out, contemp-orary demands a completely different, much looser technique and dancers often have to “unlearn” a lot of the rigidity they have learned in ballet.

Once he started taking dance seriously, Bawren joined Tumbuka, a pure African dance company, where he immediately showed potential, winning a scholarship to the Montpelier Choreographic Institute’s Summer Festival.

“I got this award when I had a main role in one of my director’s pieces – I was very surprised and honoured because there were many good applicants from our dance company. I suppose that was my first real breakthrough.”

At the back of Bawren’s mind was always the desire to have his own dance company.

“Our directors have always encouraged us to choreograph to develop the talent within in the company. My first big step was when I choreographed Wachona for our company.”

After moving to the UK, he joined the Union Dance Company, and was also introduced to Malta for the first time, when they came here to give a show at the invitation of Francesca Abela Tranter’s. Later, he came again with Phoenix Dance Company.

After Phoenix closed down, Bawren started exploring his own work and his original pieces immediately struck a chord with the public.

“I’ve been very lucky to have always earned my living from dance,” he admits. “It’s much easier in the dance world for a male dancer, because there are so many excellent female dancers that the competition is quite fierce.”

Once he struck out on his own, Bawren started fusing everything he had learned from “back home” with what he had picked up during his stints with the Union and Phoenix companies.

“My work always has an African feel to it, whether it is contemporary or break dance. It’s African, but contemporary and really strong. The rawness of the energy and the work can really be felt. I compose the music myself, which is an advantage for me because I can do exactly what I want.”

The workshops that Bawren gave to the Maltese students (10 women and two men) were in the Graham technique which, he points out, relates well to African dance because the dancer gets very close to the solidness of the ground.

I asked Bawren for his honest opinion of the local standard.

“It could be better,” he finally says tactfully. But he also adds out that, even in the UK, where dance students train full-time, he has come to the point where he can recognise which school they come from, from their style and technique. Individuality in the UK, he feels, is lacking.

“Some people are told not to point their feet, to relax, relax. In some contemporary styles, there’s a lot of relaxation, and breathing, but I don’t recommend that, because I need dancers who are strong technically and have presence. If a student from England goes to America, for example, they have to start from scratch. They come out of the colleges and graduate and you wonder: “Wow! What have you been doing for the last two years?”

Bawren speaks from the point of view of someone who never went to a dance school, so he hasn’t been “moulded” in anyone’s style.

Considering that most dancers in Malta train after a full day’s work or after regular school (as opposed to a performing arts college), Bawren comes to the conclusion that the level of Maltese dance is comparable to the UK.

“With the type of dance I do, I have to work with the guys a lot so that they can gain strength and stamina, so every dancer really should train for better physical fitness.”

Bawren, himself, doesn’t have to bother with a gym. His company works seven months of the year so he is training constantly, from 10am to 6pm daily.

Contemporary dancers tend to have a longer “shelf life” – Bawren sees himself dancing until he is in his 40s – “if I don’t get any injuries”.

While he is very pleased with his experience of working with dance students in Malta, Bawren’s visit has, unfortunately, had some negative undertones.

“Walking along the streets, people have been giving me dirty looks because they assume I’m an illegal immigrant. It really bothered me the first day because I didn’t know why they were looking at me like that. After I heard about it, then I understood it better, but it’s not very nice.”

Hearing this makes me ashamed of my country (are we going to get to the point where black people cannot even walk down the streets now?) but Bawren simply smiles his friendly smile and shrugs it off. He has even managed to turn it into something positive.

“It has inspired me to create a new dance, because I can really feel it in my heart. It is an experience that has never happened to me before in my life, so it is shocking for me. After all, I live in London which is multi-cultural. But anyway, I create better work when it comes from my emotions.”

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