Review: Dada Masilo’s ‘The Sacrifice’ @ The Mayflower Theatre, 07/03/2023

A spectacle of life, joy, death and grief

Masilo’s talent lies in bringing a clear - and moving - vision to life with bodies onstage.

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Based on Stravinksy’s piece ‘The Rite Of Spring’, Dada Masilo’s new work is a spectacle of life, joy, death and grief. You might wonder how so many existential themes are packed into just 60 minutes, but Masilo’s talent lies in bringing a clear – and moving – vision to life with bodies onstage. 

‘The Sacrifice’ features three incredible live musicians, a vocalist, and a washing machine pipe alongside a mixed ensemble of dancers, and as Masilo tells us in a Q&A session after the performance, a connection between these performers is key to the piece. It’s about working together; dancers and musicians. This connection is thoroughly played out on stage, between both audible and invisible conversations between the two groups, and the incredible musicality of the dancers, matched by the musicians. The call-and-response nature of the music also means that no two performances are identical; each is unique to the interaction between the people on stage every night. 

Credit: John Hogg via. The Mayflower

Masilo’s intricate choreography throughout the show expresses the natural motifs inspired by Stravinsky beautifully. In the first half, The Adoration of the Earth we explore ideas such as the joy of the free bird, the growth of the vegetation, and the spring theme of procreation. In this half, Dada Masilo especially explored the theme of rituals; both natural and cultural. Profoundly grounded in their earthly inspiration, each dancer performs with a sense of cohesion above and beyond the choreography. Furthermore, the solos and duets performed throughout the show are continually outstanding, full of emotion and physical movements explored to their fullest. This is to the merit of the company’s creative process. Masilo gives her dancers the opportunity to grow her concepts themselves in order to work with the motifs she wishes to develop for the piece.

Dada herself dances the principal role within the show, and as the emotional intensity grows we come to the second half of the work; the Sacrifice. With a change in costuming, from earthy tones to a more heavenly white, we now enter an exploration of purity, the stages of grief and healing. ‘We come into the world naked,’ tells Masilo of her choice to also feature partial nudity in the show, ‘it is about the purity of the body.’ The storyline which the latter part of the show follows is that of a maiden sacrifice; in Masilo’s culture maidens, virgin women, only cover up their chests when they come of age. This exposure and vulnerability sets the scene for the sacrifice. The audience is awed as the community on stage works through feelings of grief, expressed in smaller group dances, rather than whole company pieces.

Credit: John Hogg via. The Mayflower

The final dance of the show is the duet of the mother and the child. The mother laments the sacrifice of her child, made in order for something new to become; she comes to accept what she has done. The role of the mother is played by the show’s vocalist, whose operatic tones truly fill the auditorium. The finale of Dada Masilo’s ‘The Sacrifice’ is a piece of incredible emotion and yet beauty too. 

In regards to the creation of this show, Dada explains that she wanted to explore Tswana; a traditional dance from Botswana, which is part of her heritage. A key aspect of the dance which is incorporated throughout is its rhythm. The dancers themselves are musicians too, playing with motifs of rhythm and body percussion, which is a fierce spectacle. In preparation for ‘The Sacrifice’, Dada Masilo spent three months with a teacher of Tswana dance, and a further month was spent in training with the company. This commitment to the art form underlines the immersion of the dancers in their craft which is so easy to see on stage when watching them work. 

Overall, not only is Dada Masilo’s ‘The Sacrifice’ visually impressive and packed with mesmerising movement, it is a moving exploration of themes of nature as well as human nature. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in contemporary dance and dance as an art form, as well as those who might not typically pick this kind of show.

Tickets for the final performance tonight can be found here.


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