Shema’s Ubutumwa dance piece an ode to lost loved ones

Shema stages his dance piece, ‘Ubutumwa’ at Ivy Rooftop in Remera last weekend.

Ubutumwa is a new dance/theater piece by Isaac Shema, an urban traditional dancer and choreographer based in Kigali.

In the piece, the youthful dancer expresses his thoughts about his favourite relatives from the mother’s family that perished in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Shema staged a debut showcase performance of Ubutumwa at Ivy Rooftop (Remera Corner) last weekend. But that’s not all.

In May, he will take the piece to the UK, where he has been lined up to perform at this year’s edition of the Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) Festival. The festival will run from April 29-May 12, in the city of Leicester.

Now in its ninth year running, this year’s edition of the festival is specifically dedicated to celebrating the theme of ‘Black Dance: A Contemporary Voice’. There will be performances, discussions, workshops, and film screenings as part of the festival, whose lineup features artists from Haiti, Japan, Italy, USA, and Zimbabwe.

Each of the performers will explore contemporary dance that has grown out of African and African-Caribbean dance aesthetics.

“Ubutumwa is a Kinyarwanda word for “message”. In this piece I interpret the struggles and the life that my mother’s relatives were living at the time, and the lives they would have been living now had they not been killed. The message is to tell the rest of the family who are still alive, that they (the departed) are still with us, even if it’s hard to get in touch, and that we still have them in our hearts and they will always be with us,” said Shema.

More broadly, he further explains, it explores different perspectives to life, “how we face challenges and how we learn from tomorrow.”

 He disclosed that it took him close to a year and a half to come up with the dance piece.

“I remember all of them (departed relatives), but in this piece I decided to talk about only the seven favourites,” revealed Shema. “It is because I grew up with a single mother and she always told me about them and all the things they used to share together.”

Shema believes that Ubutumwa is just the beginning of greater things to come.

“I did this as the starting of my project where I will let the new generation tell their stories through dance. I want to have this at least once every two months. I intend to also have workshops about storytelling in dance, and how to express yourself in dance theatre.”

Shema was born on August 28, 1994, and the wounds from that year’s genocide still fresh on his mind. He was raised in Kigali by a single mother, his father having been killed in the Genocide. He is the eldest among three siblings.

“My life was not good because of all the problems I was born into, caused by the death of my father before I was born,” he says.

He taught himself dance by watching tutorials on Youtube, and visiting dance venues/events around Kigali to observe other dancers doing their thing. By 2007, he had introduced his dancing to the public arena, and has never looked back.