Capeverdian dance: intense, rough and theatrical

October 2008 -

"Actually we prefer to speak of contemporary dance, though our style is strongly rooted in the tradition of the Cape Verde islands. Our dance productions are theatrical, rough and sometimes explicitly violent. So our work does not fit into the common perception of African dance. Originally we were viewed with suspicion in our own country." José Brandào of Raiz di Polon explains that the company creates choreography that tells a story. These stories are closely linked to the slavery of Cape Verde's past, but there is room for praising the power of the African woman, for example.


Raiz di Polon. (Photo by Velu)

Raiz di Polon's difficult to categorise style does not keep the company from travelling all over the world. "We have staged our productions in more than forty countries. We are happy to express our culture, even though – with a population of less than half a million – we are a small country. We are all indebted to Cesaria Evora, who made the morna – a musical form related to fado – world famous, but we offer much more, such as the swinging funana style."

Even though dance as an art form is not common on the Cape Verde Islands, the members of Raiz di Polon are still popular in their own country. They are involved in many societal and cultural initiatives and train dancers in their own school. "Sometimes students think that this is a solution for poverty because we perform all over the world. But we are primarily artists because we want to tell our story. We do not get rich from this, but we can support ourselves, thanks in part to funds and networks such as Mundial."

The Cape Verde Islands culture is essentially different from that of many West-African countries. "Percussion was forbidden for a long time by the colonial authorities in order to prevent people from communicating with one another. So we do not play the djembé. We have a lively tradition of home-made musical instruments, which we use in our shows. We introduce contrast through a combination of contemporary and old musical instruments such as the cimboa, a one-stringed violin and the cavaquinho, which closely resembles a ukulele."

In October 2008 Raiz di Polon performed in Rotterdam and Helden/Panningen.