Spirit of Uganda: A project of Empower African Children


1 p.m., Sunday, April 1, 2012
Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts
Tickets: Adults $15, Children $12

Image: Spirit of UgandaPersonifying the power and promise of Uganda's youth, Spirit of Uganda performs at 1 p.m., on Sunday, April 1, 2012, at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The troupe serves as an ambassador for Uganda's 2.5 million children who are orphans of HIV/AIDS or victims of civil strife and acute poverty. Filled with dramatic choreography, colorful costumes, and traditional instrumentation, Spirit of Uganda brings to life the sounds and movements of East Africa. Tickets are $15 Adults, $12 Children.

Spirit of Uganda consists of 22 young Ugandan artists ranging in age from 11-22 whose performances, educational activities, and community exchanges promote East African culture and raise awareness to help ensure that they and their peers are fully prepared to assume leadership roles in their communities. Critically recognized and publicly acclaimed, Spirit of Uganda has been invited to perform at leading performing arts centers around the United States since 2007. Its Fairfield appearance is part of a national 23-city tour. The Village Voice describes the show as consisting of "young, proud, and marvelously spirited musicians and dancers. Whatever these performers do, in whatever different bright attire, they do with discipline, fervor, and joy..."

More than 50 distinct ethnic groups contribute to Uganda's rich culture, and while modern borders are fixed, these cultures spill out across traditional territories into neighboring countries. Many of the songs and dances presented by Sprit of Uganda are rooted in individual societies. Some are attached to specific rituals, occasions or ceremonies; others capture everyday activities or express the joys, hopes and sorrows of life and love. All have been transformed, repurposed or newly created by these young artists eager to celebrate their origins and add their own voices to this living history.

Wearing the costumes inspired by traditional and modern Ugandan textiles and patterns, the ensemble performs a repertoire that includes such pieces as the 'Hurira Engoma," a bravura showcase for the girls as they balance clay pots on their heads while dancing to traditional and contemporary choreography, and 'Larakaraka,' an Acholi dance from northern Uganda, where the dance's title became a rallying cry and therapeutic dance for those who had been abducted by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Another piece, 'Ekitaguriro,' is from the nomadic Banyankole of western Uganda, who cherish their cattle that they tend to for a living. This dance praises the long-horned cows of Ankole and Rwanda, found nowhere else on earth, and the dancers imitate their sounds, rhythms, and movements.

"Dance and music in Africa are the 'Breath of Life,'" explains Peter Kasule, the company's Artistic Director. "The deeper we breathe, the longer we live, and the more diverse and culturally rich we become. The beauty of African dance and music lies in the authenticity of our embedded traditions that are carried from one generation to another."

Spirit of Uganda is a program within Empower African Children (EAC), a non-profit organization based in Dallas, TX and Kampala, Uganda, that mentors and supports young Ugandans. Alexis Hefley, Founder and President of Empower African Children and producer of Spirit of Uganda, is recognized internationally for her work with vulnerable children in Africa. She lived and worked with AIDS orphans in Kampala for 18 months before returning to the U.S. to found Uganda Children's Charity Foundation. She also initiated and produced Children of Uganda, the award-winning and critically acclaimed performing arts company that introduced millions of Americans to East Africa's rich cultures and markedly raised awareness of the impact of AIDS and war.

Peter Kasule, who is also Spirit of Uganda's Master of Ceremonies and its founding Artistic Director, is a musician, composer, and choreographer who researches and arranges all repertory, and casts and rehearses the troupe, producing the company's music recordings. Born in Kampala, Uganda in 1981, he lost his parents to AIDS and lived at the Daughters of Charity Orphanage from 1989-96. He was an original member of the Children of Uganda company and served as that group's director from 2004-2006.

Empower African Children mentors and supports 55 young Ugandans annually. Each student attends one of the finest boarding schools in Uganda and is supported with individual counseling, community service opportunities, and a network of services that promote healthy child development. A college-level U.S. Scholarship Program makes it possible for some of these students to deepen their education at leading colleges and universities. Currently five students are working towards completing their bachelor's, engineering or master's degrees in the U.S.

Tickets and subscriptions are available through the Quick Center Box Office: (203) 254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-ARTS-396 (1-877-278-7396). Tickets can also be purchased online at http://www.fairfield.edu/quick.

The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts is located on the campus of Fairfield University at 1073 North Benson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Entrance to the Quick Center is through the Barlow Road gate at 200 Barlow Road. Free, secure parking is available. Access for people with disabilities is available throughout the Quick Center for audience members and performers. Hearing amplification devices are available upon request at the Box Office. Fairfield University is located off exit 22 of Interstate-95. For further information and directions, call (203) 254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396, or visit http://www.fairfield.edu/quick.

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Media Contact: Mike Horyczun, (203) 254-4000 ext. 2647, mhoryczun@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 20, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 237