During the Dance Umbrella post show talk 10 November 2004 at The Place, Adedayo Muslim Liadi of Ijodee Dance Company was asked why his dancers were not costumed in African fabrics. Liadi proclaimed this is “contemporary dance” not “African dance”. This proclamation is enlightening and should dispel any doubt that modern dance is the modus operandi for many present African choreographers. One wonders why such a question would be asked but given preconceived notions of what African dance is supposed to be this question becomes a reflection of questionable persistent perceptions. Deborah Jowitt in the introduction to Fifty Contemporary Choreographers (Martha Bremser, Editor, Routledge, 1999) has connected the monikers: modern dance, contemporary dance, new dance, post modern dance, etc to those works adored and scorned for having no legitimate identifiable technique, indulging in careless improvisation, notoriously self absorbed, or fervently supporting questionable political agendas even if the dance maker proclaimed there was no social, political or emotional agenda connected to h/er work. Liadi’s work, Ori (The Head) could be accused for each one of these characteristics but what his rather disconcerting statement does is throw a wrench in any preconceived notion of dance coming from Africa. The propensity of modern dance makers is to “challenge the expectations and sensibilities of the public or to present unsettling images of contemporary life” (p.2) The compositional devices and movement vocabularies used to express these propensities is as diverse as the dance makers of modern dance making. Given certain recognizable, global theatrical manifestations, at the core of each modern dance maker is the need to reveal h/er “vision of what dance means in the world and how the world reveals itself in dance” (p. 2).
Doris Humphrey’s adage “no man can dance convincingly like any other man whose experience lies outside his own” did not deter some early twentieth century modern dance makers’ cross cultural inspirations, manipulations and chosen hybridity. Martha Graham’s inspirations from Native Americans, Ruth St Denis’ Orientalism, and Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus synthesis of African and Caribbean expressions with European forms are the most notable. History has yet to reveal the others who have been left out because their movement vocabularies did not meet the expectations of modern dance critics. Appropriating varied cultural practices to insight spontaneity in performance and disrupt embodied knowledge was the manner in which modern dance practitioners sought to vivify their singular heritages, clarify and proclaim identity, change and reinvent bodily narrative and infuse ways of knowing movement with new individualistic perspectives. The modern dance choreographer sought to redefine theory and practice according to individual cultural sensibilities and illustrate heartfelt social and political agendas. The difference in this current generation of dance makers is the desire to cultivate vocabularies for each dance work as opposed to inventing an individual language to build all works. That individual language generates from lived experience, from training, from association, experience, and knowledge of hundreds of approaches since the early twentieth century to making and presenting dance in a theatre and non-theatre environment. Unlike classical ballet, Graham, and Cunningham techniques that built a movement language through which all dance works sprang, current dance makers build vocabularies to meet the needs of a given work. This allows current dance makers to tap the cultural equity embodied from studying a variety of techniques from traditional African forms to ballet to the varied contemporary techniques, body therapies and culturally specific practices and ways of knowing movement available to them.
Elisabete Fernandes and Rosy Tavares of Raiz Di Polon presented Duas Sem Três on the same program. The work illustrates with its topic, approach to vocabulary, and use of space a continuance of the way of knowing and making dance seen in works like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Woman in the USA. It may be easier though for some audience members to encapsulate Duas Sem Três in gauze of primitivism and naiveté. Instead of being discussed as a moving metaphor/metonym that uses insightful compositional strategies and movement vocabulary to elucidate contemplations on being a woman. For some perhaps this work and its eloquent simplicity can be more easily placed in a prefabricated “African dance” notion. This instead of allowing it to be a conduit for illustrating essences that build a bridge of empathy between all women no matter what culture they live in. Somehow though on some level Adedayo Muslim Liadi’s Ijodee Dance Company presentation Ori (The Head) and Raiz Di Polon - Duas Sem Três was precluded from possible affiliations with other modern dance choreographies.
Raiz Di Polon - Duas Sem Três
Two dancers, whistling on a swaying rhythm with a wind chime, their rocking, swaying motion on a diagonal downstage right to upstage left was pendulum like helping to reinforce an unseen though sensed connection. Despite the distance between them, the woman are related, sisters, bound by their common anxieties as well as split by their many variances. There are tree branches strewed across the upstage panel with a simple white backdrop. They move into a hip-ish posture of femininity then follows intimate sister-like caresses and mundane, playful moves that culminate upstage centre where the movement has the women seemingly swallowing each other whole under the dress each wears. The women then settle amongst the branches. Each begins bundling the branches that soon become bunches that they set on their heads and begin walking with. They walked, knelled; caressing arms and torso into several positions as they slowly twisted with these bunches still on their heads. A sequence of hip beats, an even, percussive move that stamped gently alternating from foot to foot, weight slightly on the outside of the foot follows. The women meet in the centre and seem to have a fight. The branches are then strewn all over the stage space. A song that precedes a section where bananas are dropped from the rigging is about the full moon. The bananas at this point become a symbol for a crescent moon signifying something that is not present and missed. Exiting the women return, Fernandes in the yellow dress exits and returns with a bucket and broom; Tavares returns with a vacuum cleaner that she uses the nozzle to lip sing the blues. She also has a scrub board and basket. Fernandes steps into the bucket, mimes a bath with sequential movements, and then mimes a dance with a basket and broom. It all ended with a play in white tulle netting their moves accompanied with banter between themselves that then is directed to the audience.
The text written for this work is by musical director Mário Lúcio Sousa. The supporting narrative relates the livelihood and interactions of two women, one urban the other rural; city in comparison with country. The comparison between the women or muses as they are referred to is not readily revealed in the choice of dress. Elisabete Fernandes in a yellow print dress for the countryside and Rosy Tavares in a dark colored dress for the city seem very similar. Props signify difference as Fernandes carries a broom and bucket and Tavares pulls a vacuum cleaner. The similarities occur when both carried bundles of wooden branches on their heads as they danced a graceful hip and step movement while shifting and turning wrapping and unwrapping each in her own sheet of African print fabric. Fernandes and Tavares used their own experience and impressions of women whose varied and same interactions in offices, city streets, markets, and dance clubs served as inspiration for this work. Fernandes and Tavares also drew from their knowledge of how European and African women cry, suffer and feel pain. Fernandes mentioned in the post show talk how the women of Cape Verde are always waiting, waiting for their partners to return from work or whatever. On their own the women care and provide for the family perilously, joyously. Fernandes feels that most women identify with Duas Sem Três. The last entrance is done in white tulle most often associated with weddings, marriage, and brides. The duet the women perform is one of relish, desire, an effort to be immersed, wrapping themselves in the fabric while walking downstage chatting to each other and then asking audience members why “they” did not marry “them”. The answer to each other “because.. because..”. The question and answer given to each other continues with remorse but not disdain. Although the women are ravels, they see in each other a mirror of each individual soul, equal and ravel essences, separate yet similar kinds of life. This is a delicate, sensitive work with its small bits of imagery and symbology that describe the feelings and life experiences of each muse.
Ijodee Dance Company – Ori (Head)
A small fire, a burner placed in a bowl downstage centre and someone sitting with his back to the audience so enfolded that you only see a torso with bent knees sticking from each side. There is a black backdrop and blue spot with a woman laying downstage right dressed in brown pants and tunic top. There is an ambience of ritual seemingly of cleansing with fire and water and two bowls one of either salt or sand. After this ceremonial like beginning, the dance began with men, dressed similarly in brown pants and some with short tunic top like the woman. These men appear in spot lights upstage right to centre then upstage left where a sequence of bombastic movement phrases begin. A monologue with angry words and a song made all five dancers, four men and one woman cringe in a tight grouping upstage right. After the vehement vocalizations the dancers continue variations on the bombastic phrase. This develops into a solo of jerky moves with snaps of the fingers. Ensemble work then develops into flinging motions for all that carries slapping of the floor into an alternating canon while the music hummed. A running motion, repeated several times throughout the dance seems more falling forward than a balanced athletic run of confidence. A staccato phrase followed with jerky, flinging gestures that juxtaposed other smoother sequenced yonvalou like moves in the spine. Juxtaposition and repetition for movement and spatial arrangement are the compositional devices favoured in this dance work with its accompaniment of spoken text, drums and flute. Overall, this is a troubled landscape with images of neurosis, insanity, with extreme levels of psychological crisis. Towards the end, all gathered in the downstage left corner to mark or acknowledge the affirmation of their common turmoil, united catharsis and eventual restitution. This dance seemed a powerful confrontation of some unseen force that had the dancers travelling a labyrinth of bewilderment. A non-literal dance that served as the event for a deliberation, a purge, a ridding of discontent.
This work drew from the performers lived experiences. As confirmed by the statements of the choreographer, Adedayo Muslim Liadi this work is his autobiographical telling. Liadi was advised by his family to leave dance. Liadi explains that dance is not considered a viable profession in Nigeria. These familial concerns though only served to push Liadi closer to dance. Dissatisfied with a predetermined lifestyle and forced to examine his connections to the religions of traditional Yoruba, Muslim and Christianity Liadi’s dance work illustrates the turmoil of life choices. Ori, translated as Head, is a deliberation on choice and the consequences of not following one’s destiny. Liadi and the other dancers in his company travel through this labyrinth of choice and enact common concerns uniting forces in an exploration of the consequences when one does not follow h/er head. Ori is the manifestation of desperation and ultimately surrender to destiny. Even though autobiographical in nature, the dance is not literal and has no linear narrative. The making of Ori involved the choreographer giving movement that was manipulated and pondered for its significance within the work. Liadi uses a run that may look rooted in African dance forms but implies a particular kind of mental crisis and is perceived as a type of pursuance, when done in place, stilted or stuck. The moments that seemed like traditional trances could be sighted as the boisterous ranting or stilted agony of each dancers’ frustration with h/er current predicament. The work was not created to represent tradition but to be expressive of experience, relevant to Liadi’s present life concerns.
It was so necessary to have the post show talk. There is now added illumination of the transcriptions played out in the minds eye assisting them to have a focus, a more refined journey. One is always privileged with interpreting a dance work from h/er own experience, h/er own perspective as voyeur. With the post show talk one can become a witness to the efforts of the performers by understanding from the choreographers’ perspective what the works signify, what was intended. The post show talk provides a window to the performers’ particular world. An inside out perspective is gained diffusing supposition and speculation, adding dimension and clarity. One audience member perceived lesbian inclinations in Tavares and Fernandes interactions. Tavares who acknowledged a person will have their own understanding of what was portrayed but explained that the closeness was an enactment of an intimate relationship between two women who share a sense of the same predicament. The relationship portrayed was not intended to represent sexual preference. Liadi’s pronouncement his work was not African dance but contemporary dance once again, a distinction and clarification of the work. Useful information that will make clear what is not readily understood for whatever reason.
THEA NERISSA BARNES