“Men Jaro” brings African Dance and Music to Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday February 16, at 8:00 p.m. in the Pearson-Hall Theatre of LPAC, one of South Africa’s leading choreographers, Vincent Mantsoe, will collaborate with South African composer Anthony Caplan to bring to life their newest creation, “Men-Jaro”, which “celebrates as well as redefines the intrinsic relationship that exists between African contemporary dance, ritual and music.”

According to Sharon Friedler, the Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts and Director of Dance, “Men-Jaro” was chosen as a proposal for the Cooper Foundation “because of the level of excellence of the collaborators as composer, choreographer, and
performers, because the work they are bringing is a collaboration between two disciplines (dance and music) and our own department is a department of music and dance that also engages in collaborative work”, and finally “because the work brings traditions of South Africa to the campus and surrounding community that are not normally accessible.”

Described as having an “astonishingly intense, physical presence”, Mantsoe will lead an ensemble of dancers to the intricate rhythms of Caplan’s original score played on indigenous Southern African instruments which include the mbira (thumb piano), umrhubhe (mouth bow), uhadi (gourd bow), botsorwane (string instrument), drums, and shakers and clappers.

Though rooted in South Africa, Men-Jaro draws upon the unique heritage of each performer which includes Japan, France, and the United States. Mantsoe himself includes influences from contemporary, aboriginal, Asian, Indian, and Balinese dance, ballet and Tai Chi and martial arts.

On what she hopes the audience will take away from the performance, Friedler explains “an understanding of the particular collaboration between these artists and, more generally, of what is possible between dance and music, an introduction to some of the traditional and contemporary elements of dance and music composition and performance from South Africa, and an appreciation for the capability of the performers as individuals and as a group.”

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