Afrika! Afrika! confounds expectations for a show with no real narrative to entertain the audience, therefore the success or otherwise of the show rests entirely on the quality of the performances. Thankfully, these are exceptional and the show, conceived by Austrian multi-media entrepreneur Andre Heller and choreographer George Momboye, is jaw-dropping good.
This is less of a show and more of an experience, as it begins before the audience enter the splendid arena. The audience pass through large Moorish tents featuring Moroccan-style cafes and authentic African arts and crafts and this subtly gets the audience in the mood. Albeit a slightly disconcerting mood, as the island nature of Africa is emphasised by background noise of breaking waves and the discrete lighting is provided by chandeliers made from beach debris which creates an almost sinister atmosphere.
One of the many wonderful things about Afrika! Afrika! is its ability to surprise at each and every turn. It is described as a ‘magical circus’ which brings to mind the type of show in which the unique features of individuals are exploited for the entertainment of the audience. It soon becomes clear that this is not the case. Huit Huit from Angola performs with such good humour and charm that one almost forgets that his act consists of twisting his limbs into shapes that a human body was not made to endure. The beaming smile with which Strappado Artist Jean-Claude Belmat acknowledges the appreciative wolf-whistles that greet his entrance make clear that this is a performer at the height of his abilities taking pleasure in demonstrating his craft.
It is perhaps inevitable that any show that celebrates cultural achievements will feature some acts that seem clichéd. Yet this wonderful Summer treat manages to make these seem as fresh as a daisy. The basketball display is performed on monocycles and the breakdancers, drawn from a range of countries, seem at times to literally defy gravity.
In such a terrific show it is unfair to pick favourites but the sheer enthusiasm of the Ethiopian Mekele Troupe and the nerve –shredding performance of the Pole Acrobats from South Africa and Tanzania are unforgettable.
If there is a criticism it is that the show is so fast and relentless that the audience scarcely have time to catch breath, let alone think about the performances. There is a political aspect to the sequence in which Gumboot dancers, dressed as coalminers, perform a dance–off with Stepdancers, in white ties who tap-dance on a pink Cadillac, but this is overlooked as one gets caught up in the show.
Afrika! Afrika! is billed as a celebration of the diversity of the African nations. Whilst I would not wish to deny that statement it seems that the show is as much about the astonishing things that human beings can achieve and as such, is a celebration of life.