Wednesday 8 August 2012 | By Chris Cooke
Winston Ruddle: The Fringe’s “big African party”, you’re all invited
Mother Africa promises dance, music, acrobatics; the modern, the traditional, colour, noise and humour. This well-established troupe are bringing their show to the UK for the first time ever. The group’s creator and director, Winston Ruddle, tells ThreeWeeks more.
CC: How did you find the performers who appear in Mother Africa?
WR: Originally, I was talent scouting all around Africa, mostly in the east and south. I found guys like Lazarus Gitu, living as a street child in Kenya, and not knowing of his great great talent. He, like others, came to my circus school in Tanzania to practise and learn, and now he is the most flexible man in the world. Other artists came by themselves, after word-of-mouth spread around about the school.
CC: How would you describe the Mother Africa show?
WR: It’s a mix of dance, music and acrobatics, both modern and traditional. The media often call it “a big African party!”. It’s very colourful, and in the best way noisy and funny. Mother Africa has been seen by over a million people around the world, and we’re so excited to be making our UK debut.
CC: What have you got planned for Edinburgh this year?
WR: To show some of our best acts! Our shows are normally over two hours long, but at the Fringe we have to fit everything into a shorter slot. So we’ll feature all the highlights including the aforementioned Lazarus Gitu, the acrobatic cyclist Braka, who defies the laws of nature and gravity on a variety of home-made unicycles and bikes, one of which is arguably the smallest working bicycle in the world, and the Icarian Game Act, where Yonas & Tariku from Ethiopia thrill the audience with neck-breaking somersaults and combinations of spins in the air.
CC: Is the music original, or will people recognise the score? How do you decide on what music to use?
WR: Some our our music is traditional, some songs are from famous African writers, and some are self-made. The music has always fitted and supported the act, in a way that works.
CC: You have choreography, acrobatics and music – when you are planning a show, which comes first? How do the various strands come together?
WR: Always first is the artistic performance, then comes the music and finally the choreography. We usually start planning the show about nine months before the next tour. Next year, for the first time, we will integrate a storyline into the show, so it will become a bit more like a musical, a kind of African Cirque Du Soleil, but really only a flavour of that style. It will remain a true African original!
CC: You use traditional African dances – how do you decide which ones to work, and are they recognisable?
WR: It depends on the whole programme and how the dance fits with the other acts. In recent years, we have featured more the east coast, next year will see more elements from the west coast.
CC: As you travel the world, do you find yourself influenced by any other musical, dance or circus styles or traditions?
WR: Of course! When I travel around, I try to see as much as possible and all these influences come together in my head, which is an African one, so I transfer many western things into an African melting pot.
‘Mother Africa’ was performed at Assembly Hall at Fringe 2012.