Draped in bark cloth and other traditional paraphernalia, a vicious troupe of night dancers dig up a grave and briskly yank a corpse from it, drool over the coming feast on human flesh — a delicacy in their world..
Soon, the cannibals cheerfully dance over the corpse boiling in a huge container before they hungrily feast on it. But their party is cut short when the community finally catches them in the middle of this bizzare act.
The hair-raising scene is part of a new dance drama: The Myth of the Night Dancers — Abasezi. The play was staged at the Uganda National Theatre in Kampala from June 24 – 26, to full houses.
Performed by Tabu-Flo Dance Company — a seven-member outfit that according to hipipo.com, is arguably Uganda’s top urban dance crew — the play depicts the nocturnal activities of the abasezi (Luganda for night dancers or night runners ) who are a group of social misfits that have been terrorising the community.
For example, besides eating dead bodies, they defecate in people’s gardens and smear human waste on their houses.
According to webcache.googleusercontent.com, “…A widely-feared person throughout Uganda is the night dancer. He is a community member by day; by night he is thought to roam about eating dead bodies while floating along the ground with fire between his hands. People generally avoid travelling alone at night for fear of these night dancers…”
The play delves into Ugandan folklore, tackling issues such as cannibalism, death and respect for the dead, conflict over space as well as rivalry over women.
It takes an interesting approach to tell the story — a blend of African and contemporary dance like rumba, Afro-beat, techno, robot, hip-hop and break-dance, accompanied with the appropriate music. The costumes range from the traditional bark cloth to jeans and caps and sneakers.
The audience is overwhelmed at the utter cruelty with which the cannibals exercise power over the dead — without an iota of respect for the departed. The lighting and sound effects like rain and lightening add to the plays’ verve.
In its review of the play performed at the Breakin’ Convention 2011 in England, The Guardian newspaper wrote: “Ugandan group Tabu Flo’s Myth of the Night Dancers was most interesting for its seamless blend of hip-hop with African dance, and for physical wit — stiff dancing, for example, to portray an animated corpse.”
The annual urban dance showcase took place at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre in April and Tabu-Flo was the first East African troupe to grace the eight-year-old dance showcase.
After a successful show in the UK, Tabu-Flo Dance Company decided to bring the same experience to audiences back home in Uganda.
“We hope to represent Uganda and Africa at large in as many festivals as possible,” said group member Antonio Ssebuuma alas Bukhar. “Due to public demand, we plan to stage it again in Kampala soon.”
So where did the idea of night dancers stem from?
“We had always wanted to do a thematic production. And when a long time friend called Emile from Ireland, came up with the idea of night dancers we thought it was interesting and adopted it,” said Ssebuuma.
The members of Tabu-Flo met while dancing with Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU) — an organisation set up in 2005 that uses breakdance and other elements of hip-hop for positive social change. Ssebuuma, Akim Zziwa and Abdul Muyingo teamed up to start Tabu-Flo with a view of raising BPU’s standards.
It also aims to hook new audiences by offering a high quality aesthetic theatrical experience while emphasising the benefits of using hip-hop as a vehicle for social change.
The Myth of the Night Dancers – Abasezi will form part of a documentary that will chart the journey of Tabu-Flo from its humble BPU roots to the international stage. The crew has toured Denmark, Poland, Germany and Tanzania, among other countries. It emerged as Uganda’s Best Dance Group at the 2010 Mirinda Fest held at Hotel Africana in Kampala.