Quick Center for the Arts Executive Director, Peter Van Heerden, makes his performance debut as he portrays ‘The Empire’ in Nehanda

Quick Center for the Arts Executive Director, Peter Van Heerden, makes his performance debut as he portrays ‘The Empire’ in Nehanda

Nehanda was conceived as an African opera by New York-based, Zimbabwean choreographer Nora Chipaumire

Media Contact: Lori N. Jones, ljones@fairfield.edu, 203-254-4000 xx2975

On September 23, Peter Van Heerden, executive director of the Quick Center for the Arts, will perform for the first time in his own backyard as he takes the stage in Nehanda, a movement-based theater performance, where chants and different musical elements fuse together in a powerful work which investigates both the legends of Zimbabwe and its colonial past. It will be the first time Nehanda is performed in its entirety in one evening.

Nehanda was conceived as an African opera by New York-based, Zimbabwean choreographer nora chipaumire. The immersive, participatory, and durational spectacle, which runs five and a half hours, allows participants to collectively perform and investigate the process of law-making and its crucial role in the European colonial project.

“I am honored to participate in this incredible performance project which brings me back to my roots in many ways,“ noted Van Heerden, who has long straddled both worlds of director and performer. “I will represent ‘the Empire’ the white colossus, all pre/past/present colonizers, the queen, the state,” he says.

A native of South Africa, Van Heerden holds a bachelor's degree in drama and classical civilization from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, and a master's degree in theatre and performance from the University of Cape Town. His works have toured extensively in South Africa as well as appearing in Europe and the United States.

“We have presented nora and have supported her work for years,” said Van Heerden. “In the preparation to create the opera, nora and I were discussing Nehanda and the role of the Empire the Queencame up. I said to nora, ‘That part is made for me,’ and the rest they say is history!”

Nehanda speaks of spirit and family. The work is a powerful case of the fight for freedom and prosperity for all. The embodiment of 'the Empire' allows for an abjection of whiteness  — enforcing a truth within the body and how the body represents itself. The work is rigorous, but enables spiritual and cathartic performances to manifest, explained Van Heerden.

“This is very similar to the work I created earlier in my career, working with the abject body to re-investigate modern white masculinity and its placement in contemporary society.” he said. 

Nehanda’s medium was Charwe Nyakasikana, a heroic revolutionary leader, who orchestrated the first uprisings in British-occupied Southern Rhodesia in 1896-97. Together with four comrades, she was captured, and after getting an expedited and unjust trial, she was executed by the British colonizers.

Nehanda offers a legal and philosophical defense for the first heroes of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. The libretto is based on the infamous court case, “The Queen vs. Nehanda” (1898), between two sovereigns Nehanda – mhondoro – “lion spirit,” and the Queen Victoria, whose long and glorified reign witnessed the rise and extension of the British empire across the world.

nora chipaumire was born in Zimbabwe and is based in NYC, where her company has been challenging and embracing stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body, art, and aesthetic. She is a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe’s School of Law and holds an MA in dance and MFA in choreography & performance from Mills College. She has studied dance in Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, and the U.S. and has performed her multiple award-winning works worldwide.

Nehanda will be presented for one night only on Friday, September 23 at 6 p.m. The performance is supported, in part, by WPKN 89.5. Tickets are on sale now for only $30, or $20 for Quick Members at quickcenter.com, where you can also become a Quick Member. For more information, contact the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010, Monday through Friday, from 12 to 5 p.m.

Posted On: September 20, 2022

Volume: 54 Number: 20

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