Dancer and Choreographer Nora Chipaumire was happy to be presenting her work “Miriam” at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and the Andy Warhol Museum of Art for the second time.

“I have a relationship with Janera and she believes in the work I showed Miriam at the Kelly Strayhorn two years ago. There’s something in Pittsburgh that is accommodating to my work,” said Chipaumire, a die-hard Ben Rothlisberger fan who was born in Zimbabwe and based in New York. “I’ve had a relationship with Pittsburgh that I am very protective of and I have a great affection for the audience that supports ‘Miriam,’” she continued.

“Miriam” is Chipaumire’s most personal dance theater production that asks the audience on the journey of being an outsider and dealing with the tensions of public expectations, private desires.

Chipaumire drew on her admiration of the writings of Joseph Conrad, Zimbabwe-born novelist Chenjeri, South African singer and activist Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeba who died in 2008, and the role of the Virgin Mary to come up with the concept for “Miriam.”

“Miriam was phenomenal. I was intrigue by the fact that she was an African woman who could carry the responsibility of being an African woman and becoming an icon,” said Chipaumire who is a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe School of Law and who holds a Masters of Arts in dance and a Masters of Fine Arts in Choreography and Performance from California’s Mills College. “There aren’t that many African women who do that.”

My question was how did she do that. Then that question turned to icons in general,” she said. “The other icon I chose was the Virgin Mary. Both women took what was strewn upon them from history and carried it along. They gave up part of themselves to become these icons.”

For 60 minutes, audiences are submerged in total darkness while Chipaumire ascends from a pile of rocks to convey feminine struggles. She is accompanied on stage by fellow dancer Okwui Okpokwasili, who portrays both angel and devil.

“She is an actor who dances exquisitely,” said Chipaumire about her performing partner. “I was looking for someone who had skill with words. The piece is like two solos happening at one time. Miriam Makeba was so complex that it takes two people to perform this. It’s been an exquisite exploration of each other.”

The audience is drawn close to the performers due to the physical space of the theater but are kept at a distance through the play of light and darkness. It is Chipaumire’s attempt to take away the audience’s “right” to comfortably comprehend the concepts of “Miriam.”

Chipaumire collaborated with some of the artistic worlds’ best and brightest to bring “Miriam” to life.

The piece was directed by Eric Ting, associate artistic director at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. Cuban composer and pianist Omar Sosa served as the soundscape composer and France’s Olivier Clausse is “Miriam’s” Lighting and Visual Director.

Chipaumire will complete her 2013 tour of “Miriam” in July in Milwaukee.


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