In October the University of Oklahoma hosted the Neustadt Festival in honor of author Mia Couto. Apparently he is a Mozambican children’s author. I love nothing more than a good fairy tale and I saw on the festival program that the School of Dance had turned his story “The Birds of God” into a choreo-drama. The only problem was that the performance was during my Global Engagement class. So I talked Jaci into letting the students skip class to go to the show. Well, we compromised. We could go if we read the story beforehand (which you can find at http://www.srs-pr.com/AFRICAN/couto-birds.pdf) and wrote a reflection about it after the fact. It seemed like the best deal I was going to get, so I took her up on it.
Here’s what I thought:
Upon first reading “The Birds of God” by Mia Couto, it seems like a simple story about acceptance and trust. However, when I watched the choreo-drama adaption of the short story I began to wonder if that is what the story was really about. I went in to the performance hall expecting something along the lines of a sweet, played down children’s play; what I saw was a wonderful mix of drama and dance that brought out the subtext form the story. During the question and answer portion with Mia Couto someone asked why the main character, Ernesto Timba, felt so strongly that the birds were gifts from God. Couto responded by explaining that, in Africa, many people consider birds to be very special because they are creatures of the air, and therefore closer to heaven. The actors, chorographers, and costume designers all made that very clear with how they presented the story.
Another thing that I notices in the choreo-drama that I didn’t notice as much in the story was Timba’s trust that everything was part of some plan. While reading the story I thought “How does he know the birds are from God?” but, while watching the drama, I abandoned that question and instead wondered “What would it be like to trust in something so completely?” I also was surprised by how different Timba’s sacrifice came across at the end of the drama versus the end of the short story. In the story it seemed obvious that he would give himself to save his people. In the drama, however, his anguish was clear as he struggled to fix the situation. I knew I would enjoy the performance because I love drama, but I didn’t realize how much more the choreo-drama could convey. The emotions of the characters seemed much more real and it was easier to understand their culture lifestyle in the drama than from just reading the short story.