AfriKera students gather in a corner and watch attentively, as Mcintosh Jerahuni takes them through their next steps.
If you have an opportunity to witness the process behind dance instruction, you realize that there’s more to the art form, than simply transferring skills of movement from teacher to student. A layered process of learning, taking ownership of the steps and conveying a message. It’s during this interpretation process that the teachers are unforgiving. Each wrong move compromises the intended message.
Photo credit: Tommy Rustad
As the students attempt to absorb the choreography, Mcintosh is quick to relay to them how each step, communicates something to the audience.
“No dead bodies,” he tells the students. “It’s very important for African bodies to decolonize,” he adds.
That dance is a powerful medium was reiterated in that moment, a compelling way of telling stories whose authenticity relies significantly on representation.
Authenticity is an integral part of Mcintosh’s messaging, something he learnt earlier as he progressed through his dance career.
His story begins in what he teasingly refers to as “the dusty areas of Mbare,” in 1988, Zimbabwe’s oldest high-density suburbs. He stumbled into dance as a young boy, while frequenting Savanna Arts, a voluntary organization where Marimba, Mbira and dance were taught in his neighborhood. While there, he was discovered by dancer and choreographer Brian Geza, who invited him to join his Zvishamiso Arts community initiative around 2002, and he studied under him. As he settled in at Zvishamiso Arts, he grew curious about the Dance Foundation Course (DFC) that two of his brothers, Tendai and Jimu Makurumbandi, had taken.
During a DFC performance at Girls High School Harare, he came into contact with Soukaina M-L. Edom- who was then in charge of the DFC, and approached her to join the course, but he had to pay his dues first.
“DFC was performing something, and I was like, I want to join DFC, and she said then you have to help us carry the props, and I found myself carrying the drums etc.”
In 2009, he successfully auditioned for the DFC, and enrolled in the 3-year programme under Soukaina M-L Edom.
After graduating from the DFC in 2011, Mcintosh was selected to join Tumbuka Dance Company and worked as a performer, following which he served as its artistic director before the company closed down in 2016. Mcintosh walked away with priceless lessons from his time with Tumbuka, that have influenced his career trajectory, particularly, solidifying his identity.
The notion of ‘knowing who you are,’ was entrenched in Mcintosh and the rest of the Tumbuka dancers by Nora Chipaumire, who worked with Tumbuka, and perceived identity as a pivotal prelude to anything in life.
“This helped me to really find who I am and where I want to go.” says Mcintosh
While on this subject, I probed him on his earlier statement to the students on ‘decolonizing’ their bodies.
“We are no longer a colony, and even if we are a reflection of the colony, it’s important that we find ourselves and know who we are, because if we do not know who we are, we are not going anywhere.” He says
If you do not know yourself as a dancer, “you’re just doing dead art. It doesn’t transcend, it doesn’t give anyone anything… What we want is living art.” Mcintosh adds
Mcintosh lives and breathes this statement, and through his initiative Jerahuni Movement Factory (JMF), he creates work that confronts issues around identity and everyday societal matters. Currently, his dance career involves hosting workshops and touring internationally with his breakout piece ‘Chiroro Dziva/The Sleeping Pool’. He also performs his other pieces including ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ originally created by Vaslav Nijinsky adapted under the mentorship of Nora Chipaumire, ‘Dhakam Tower of Silence,’ and ‘Iwe Neni Tine basa’ created for AfriKera.
Recognition of Mcintosh’s work has landed him several awards including 3 NAMA awards: two-time Outstanding Male Dancer and Outstanding Choreographer awards, the DTZ Trophy of Excellence and Movement Innovation. He is also one of the recipients of the ‘Pina Bausch fellowship for Dance and Choreography 2020,’ through which he will work under the mentorship of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar Wizola, founder and artistic director of Urban Bush Women.
Mcintosh credits AfriKera, Tumbuka and DFC for playing a role in shaping who he is today, and in the spirit of paying it forward, he has one message for his students:
“That they know who they are, everything else, comes after, first know who you are, and then you will see everything else start to open up.”