Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba’s "Correspondances"

Voices of Strength features five of Africa’s most dynamic contemporary choreographers.

Photo by Eric Boudet
Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba’s Correspondances

What comes to mind when you think of African dance? Colorful costumes, lively rhythms, every part of the body in joyous motion: American audiences love traditional African dance.

But traditional dance isn’t all there is to dance from Africa. Lately, African contemporary dance has been lighting up international stages. Now, in a program called Voices of Strength, the Walker Art Center is bringing together five female choreographers for a weekend immersion in this new African dance.

What makes this dance different? To start with, African dance has a present as well as a past. Contemporary African choreographers draw from their vibrant traditions, but they also struggle in a world plagued by poverty and war, where despotic governments rule and widespread oppression of women is the norm. These choreographers address their world—and its relation to ours—in stark and dreamy images. In Maria Helena Pinto’s Sombra, a lone figure feels her way with a bucket on her head, hidden yet spotlit. In Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba’s Correspondances, Xaba, a beautiful black woman, dances with a small white puppet as carefully as a girl with her doll.

The choreographers in Voices of Strength also embody the future of African dance. They’ve trained and performed all over the world, and their dances reflect their education and worldliness at the same time as they draw from deep local roots. Stylistically, they exhibit devastating strength and whisper-fine grace, along with wit that cuts through lies to reach truths that are both dark and beautiful. Oct. 10–13. Walker Art Center, 612-375-7600,