I caught Liza Mackay’s Choreography exhibition at the Red Hill Art Gallery, in Kiambu just outside Nairobi. I was excited but not surprised that Mackay combined art with dance because as an alumni of Kenya High School, Nairobi, where arts is an institution.
Mackay is also a contemporary dancer and art teacher.
“Choreography is about movement in space,” said Mackay. “I love painting people,” she said, and her work is influenced by American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, who revolutionised dance in the early 19th century.
Mackay’s choreography, is inspired by Adam Chienjo, whose repertoire of postures is crafted into contemporary dance. Bare skinned save for the black lycra shorts, Chienjo’s muscles taut and then relax as he moves and then holds his frame into a statuesque frame. His moves reflect Graham’s technique of contraction and release, like breathing, now a ‘trademark’ of modern dance forms. Chienjo, a contemporary dancer, is also an art teacher and has worked as an artist’s model for Mackay.
Rhythmic to the soul
Like Graham, Mackay combines dance and drawing in Choreography.
“In classical ballet, you start with your feet like turned 90 degree outward, which holds the body upright, but in contemporary dance, your feet are pointed forward, allowing more movement. Contemporary dance follows no rules, it’s rhythmic to the soul like African and Asian folk dance, while classical ballet has strict rules.”
Her paintings are in oils for depth in colour, and being against white canvas allows for the muscles and postures to stand out. An exception are two in colour from ancient Egypt showing contemporary dance moves from ancient Egyptian figurines.
Chienjo’s contemporary dance performance was accompanied by Nyatiti music played by Kake Wakake. Nyatiti is a stringed instrument, traditional to the Luo of Kenya. The exhibition runs until February 27.