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Batalo bring it on with virtual fest

Dancers in a showcase during last year’s Batalo East Festival. Photos/ Gabriel Buule

As has been with many other festivals, this year’s Batalo East Festival had no audience. For three days, fans had to stream live on different social media platforms to enjoy the dance festival.



If there is one thing art has proved during such difficult times, it is the fact that it can survive regardless of what is thrown at it.
Just six months ago, there were many plans for festivals, showcases and art markets– many of these were cancelled the moment lockdowns and curfews around the world were announced.

Yet, as the world starts to adjust into what many term as the ‘new normal’, art has hit the ground running.
From virtual shows, talks, celebrations and festivals, the sector has tried to keep itself busy as they prepare or wait for a time they will have to do what they love in front of a live audience.

On Friday, Batalo East premiered this year’s Batalo Dance Fest, a three-day event that was geared towards celebrating the art of dance and while at it, highlighting Ugandan body movements from the famous, obscure to those almost going extinct.
On the opening day, for instance, the well-curated A-Z dance routine tried in the simplest ways to celebrate Uganda’s traditional dances in order of the alphabet. This included dances such as Amakondere, Agwara, Amaluta, Magunju and Masejere, among others.

Without a physical audience to applause or give direct feedback, a better part of audience engagement was happening in the different comment sections of social media platforms, where the show was streaming.
For example, one of the people watching noted that they enjoyed the dances, even though they had no idea some were even Ugandan to begin with.

To ensure the dances were not plainly represented, the choreography borrowed from their older themes to create new art, thus, not many of their dances were done in the exact way we are used to seeing them.
They had bits of bumping, grinding and breaking here and there.
This being an online version, where data and other logistics have to be considered, performances were relatively short, compared to what they usually do at festivals.


Dance choreographer Roger Masaba dances with his daughter

In fact, each day, the performances took about 45 minutes – but that was not a big problem, especially considering the fact that many of the showcases curated were beloved pieces such as self-accusation by dancer-cum-producer and DJ, Faizal Mostrixx Ddamba, Street Dance Force’s Ssukali, Omusinde by Vuzuri Dance Crew and showcases from South Africa and Tanzania.

Besides the dance routines though, the festival also hosted an informative panel discussion, Africa Speaks, which focused on ways to build a sustainable and relevant dance career in Africa.
Some of the issues that rose from the talk was the fact that while monetary value has been added to different traditional dances when they package them for tourism, the dances have lost some of their indegenious value in the process.

But above it all, the talk resolved that it is important for African arts to build an economic value so that they may not have to listen to excuses from different economic players that other fields are more pressing and important.
The festival ended yesterday with performers that included choreographers Abdul Kinyenya’s collaborative work in progress with Jonzi D and other East African dancers.
The routine is supposed to be ready for the same festival in 2021.

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