Review: Theatre Prospero's Anthem of Life Part 1 a magical creation story filled with dance

Anthem of Life Part 1, playing at the Alberta Avenue Community Centre through July 6, combines dance and music as it tells a rendition of a South African creation myth.

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There’s something magical about a creation myth, especially one so full of life and told so majestically. Theatre Prospero’s newest show provides a ray of sunshine as it weaves the tale of humanity.

Anthem of Life Part 1, playing at the Alberta Avenue Community Centre in central Edmonton through July 6, combines dance and music as it tells a rendition of a South African creation myth.

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It’s playwright Tololwa Mollel’s interpretation of South African Poet Laureate and Zulu-language philosopher Mazisi Kunene’s Anthem of the Decades, an epic poem originally written in Zulu and translated into English. The epic poem and the play retell the story of the Zulu creation myth.

That description makes it sound very dry and academic, but what is brought to the stage is wonderous and magical. Through dance and music, giant masks and storytelling, the story of the gods and their creation are brought to life.

A young boy pours his soul into his notebook, filling page after page with stories. He writes to understand the world around him, and translating those stories so his teacher can understand, but also so the wider world can understand. His parents are bewildered by his stories but support the young boy, making sure he has notebooks to fill and a bright place to write.

That boy writes about creation, about the gods who created the universe, the planets, and everything on earth. He is visited by guides who help him decipher the stories, help him to understand what the gods are doing, and why they do what they do.

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Theatre Prospero Edmonton
Theatre Prospero presents Anthem of Life Part 1. Photo by Joselito Angeles, Intertwined Studios. edm

It’s important to start at the beginning, and the gods create the planets and the solar system. They create the mountains and the savanna, the weather and the creatures. They create abantu, the people who populate the earth.

Then everything goes wrong. At least, this is the part of the story where the gods start quarrelling among themselves, causing serious division between the celestial beings responsible for creation. They steal from one another, make accusations, and argue about who is to blame and what should be done to their new creations.

Humanity is caught in the middle, unintended consequences unleashing havoc for the poor abantu who are just trying to live their lives. At one point, a trio of wild dogs are unleashed upon the hapless people of the world, ravaged by the aggressive beings without understanding where they came from or why their lot in life seems to end in suffering.

Did I always understand what was happening on stage? No, but that didn’t detract from the wonder of the show. A few of the lines are delivered in Zulu, though never so much dialogue that it takes away from the action on stage.

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Theatre Prospero Edmonton
Theatre Prospero presents Anthem of Life Part 1. Photo by Joselito Angeles, Intertwined Studios. edm

There’s also a lot of dance, which seems appropriate for a show about creation. A combination of artistic avenues are used throughout, from shadow puppets to song and movement. It comes together in Anthem of Life Part 1 for a magical whole, a delight to behold.

The massive masks used to represent the gods of the universe are especially beautiful, an incredible prop that lends a special pop to the creators. Each god has a gorgeously crafted mask, almost three feet long and dangling long strings and painted with incredible detail. Yet each mask is light enough that the cast can carry them around on stage with no trouble.

A special shoutout also goes to the live African drumming ensemble that accompanies the show. It would have been easy to use recorded music, but the live drumming and performance add a very special and warm touch to the show.

Anthem of Lif is only part 1 of Mollel’s trilogy in re-imagining the Anthem of the Decades, so we don’t get the full story of humanity. But what he and Theatre Prospero have created is a wonderous thing, a fusion of dance, music and storytelling. It’s going to be exciting to see what the next two parts bring.

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Anthem of Life Part 1

Theatre: Theatre Prospero, at Alberta Avenue Community Centre 9210 118 Ave.

Written by: Tololwa M. Mollel

Directed by: Mark Henderson

When: Through July 6

Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, $15 for students, available at edmontonarts.ca


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