4 June—9 June
Impro-Visé 2 Andreya Ouamba-Compagnie 1er Temps & Umthombi / The Young Man Musa Hlatshwayo-Mhayise Productions
11 June—16 June
Plasticization – Nelisiwe Xaba
C’est à dire… Seydou Boro / Compagnie Salia nï Seydou
Four choreographers presented dance works in Moving Africa 3 from 4 June through 16 June 2007 at The Pit located in London’s Barbican Centre. The Pit is a small black box space with the possibility of four wings and light legs with the audience on raisers. It is an intimate space where contour of face is as clear as design of body and dynamics of movement. This year’s Moving Africa 3 was as much a platform of cultural politics as it was a platform presenting examples of contemporary dance devised by choreographers who have had training in Africa, Europe and America. Each began journeys as dance artists from various locales within the African Continent; Congo Brazzaville-Andréya Ouamba; Durban, South Africa-Musa Hlatshaway; Johannesburg, South Africa-Nelisiwe Xaba; Burkina Faso-Seydou Boro then continued to study and work abroad and win awards for their work.
Similar to modern dance pioneers in America and Germany to current New Dance and contemporary dance in Britain these dance works illustrate their place in the genealogy of contemporary dance by incorporating recognisable compositional structures and devices. Their use of these strategies challenges expectations and sensibilities of what dance from the African continent supposedly re-presents. These choreographers surpass simplistic recognition of these dancing bodies that attempt to essentialise responses around difference of race, gender and expected movement language and sensibilities. In this post colonial, globalised world, dance from Africa still solicits clichéd and antiquated references but these dance works contradict those colonial, imperialistic, racist connotations by skilfully utilising contemporary dance strategies to reveal the effects of present day predicaments. For these dance makers, contemporary dance is a vehicle to describe current social, political and cultural crisis in their individual locales in recognisable contemporary dance modes.
Andréya Ouamba’s work, Impro-Visé 2 as the title implies, utilised improvisation to comment on a social cultural crisis; not to solicit pity as much as a vehicle for the dancers’ emotional exploration. Umthombi / The Young Man presented by Musa Hlatshwayo reclaims the past to enrich the present. Similar to the work of African American modern dance practitioners, Hlatshwayo balances within a contemporary frame an African traditional worldview and belief system to portray a rite of passage. Nelisiwe Xaba’s Plasticization comments on a social crisis that is global but her clever use of ordinary objects as metaphorical references are an individual voice emphasising the effects of that crisis. C’est à dire gives evidence of its redemptive intentions; Seydou Boro’s postures and minimalist movement vocabulary enliven his pontificating rendered through verbal text and gestures that vivify Boro’s cultural and political positionalities.
Each dance maker has crafted an emotional landscape for audience members to traverse issues, concerns and trepidations that are universal. Their varied means of negotiation through these varied landscapes are culturally and ethnically individual and uniquely different for each one. Can embodiment map cultural history; deride a situation, posit solutions? The choreographic voice can suggest a way forward only if the witness, audience members and critics, are able to “read” these works from alternative perspectives.
Impro-Visé 2 Andreya Ouamba-Compagnie 1er Temps; performed 8 June 2007
Impro-Visé 2 presents the choreographer, Andreya Ouamba accompanied by Fatou Cissé. Program notes quote Ouamba stating “We can’t always tell stories or explain what our dancing means or what we are dancing. We are simply expressing ourselves.” Improvisation can be a slippery compositional structure but these performers’ intensity and chosen subject matter, made for an honest and insightful work. With the sound of children playing the dance begins with both Cisse and Ouamba amongst rubble and boxes placed upstage left.
Cissé is the first to leave the boxes. Her movements begin with soft, lyrical gestures in arms and legs to step out of the box into a soft blue light. Cissé has on a black flower print dress with her hair two extended plates sticking from each side of her head; an exaggerated effect emphasising the character of a young girl. Cissé’s movements indicate an inner, liminal space, where she rarely if ever looks neither out nor at the audience. Her jumps and poly centric moves have a rhythm in the spine where one might believe she is playing a game of sorts. At one point in the dance, Cissé’s movements are more etched and tense as if Cissé is exploring a more troubling inner terrain. Her travelling steps are more rhythmical while arms and legs move forcefully, reaching out, and taut. Strong lyrical though convulsive full body gestures turn to manic giggles which seem to indicate imbalance or a battle against antagonistic forces. Change of lighting states seem moments of revelation for the dancers; reflections of the self or what their characters may be feeling about themselves, each other, their situation.
Ouamba’s performative act is riveting in its subtlety but it is very insular, his eyes are barely open and he rarely looks at the audience or out to some power beyond. His spirit as well as any consolation or restitution is searched for within. Cissé laying in the rubble begins mumbling illustrating she is frustrated with something or someone. Eventually she tells the lighting technician to turn off the lights bringing an end to the performance.
There is no narrative; only brief glimpses of significance, brief indication of several meanings. Ouamba’s final movement phrase had resonance; anguish evidence of trepidation; terror or anger sharpened and used in an articulate manner; embodiment indication of this crisis displaying an understanding of the situation. Both were frustrated with the boxes but also cherished the space the boxes occupied; turning them about rearranging them but remaining with in their boundaries as the dance progressed Ouamba is the only one to escape physically from the area. Cissé’s strong speech takes her away but she returns before the lights descend. Cissé’s return to the rubble is an acceptance and Ouamba’s movement away from it, a displacement. Throughout the dance they had moved methodically displacing each other. They didn’t confront each other as much as share cherished spaces while contending with self. Cissé breaks the fourth wall but only to retreat to the boxes as the light fads. Ouamba never confronts the audience or antagonists; his presence seemingly resolved to contend with inner tensions.
Their bows were reverent and stoic, timid in fact with both leaving by the side door averting audience members after their transformation. Other than the boxes and rubble there were few Jungian archetypes or familiar metaphorical indicators to cling too. Program notes indicate the intent of the work was to embody emotions characterizing the situation of children in the streets of Dakar and the rest of the world. To situate the dance and its meaning audiences are invited to reference the performers’ performative investigation which incorporated several unsettling, visceral images.
Umthombi / The Young Man Musa Hlatshwayo-Mhayise Productions; performed 8 June 2007
For this work the cyc was white with a red wash. Carpet panels on each side of the stage are lain the full depth of the performance space. Each carpet panel has a light placed on the downstage end. Light from these booms formed squares on the cyc. Our protagonists enter from upstage right wing. Their dress and size establish their relationship to each other and contextualise the story. Musa Hlatshwayo is dressed in a long decorative layered tunic and Ntokozo Mthethwa in a short, plain tunic. Both carry what appears to be a herder’s whip and sandals. This journey begins with carefully placed steps of which Hlatshwayo has command and Mthethwa is somewhat shaky. Hlatshwayo relates in the program that his work renegotiates African traditional identity by sourcing its tradition, religion, culture and customs. Umthombi is illustrative of a rite of passage though there is no claim to specific ethnic affinity. Though the program notes indicate an adolescent in search of his manhood, Umthombi is a journey exploring through dance a timeless relationship that could exist between a master teacher and an apprentice, mentor and mentee, or Father and son.
The opening sounds are perhaps of children tending a flock of goats or sheep near a stream. Arriving mid stage our protagonist arrange ceremonially herding whips and sandals in relation to each other centre stage. From here we are presented with several metaphorical vignettes that characterise relationship and dimension of character. Lights and sound characterize the landscape in which our protagonists move. Sounds of a horse galloping put our protagonists on edge as their facial expressions and movements indicate a heightened level of apprehension; low chanting and the sound of a stream, perhaps a campsite.
Hlatshwayo moves are broad, wide and majestic; arms and legs sweap and suspend. Hlatshwayo focus is beyond the confines of the theatre space indicating perhaps an open rural expanse. The movement vocabulary is conventional but despite its linearity there is a weighted ness. Mthethwa is smaller in stature and even when his moves are full bodied stretches his volume is not as weighty as Hlatshwayo. They are an ideal coupling to emphasise a mentor-mentee relationship.
Mthethwa creeps about seemingly investigating the staged terrain always though keeping Hlatshwayo within eye sight. The stage left carpet has a white powered residue that both eventually treat with reverence, dust from head to foot, blow into then prostrate with ritualised movement phrases which develop into elaborate, dynamic moves. This sequence is rhythmically fast and travels on the ground with rolls and lifts to the knees. The movement vocabulary is generic contemporary dance movement configured to express the spiritual ness of African ritual.
Mthethwa’s solo movements contextualise his character as a neophyte testing the boundaries of his environment as well as self; slow balances and tentative postures test his virility and tenacity to walk alone. The sound is a slow melodic whistle indicative of this moment of concentration and contemplation. Positioned on the stage right carpet Hlatshwayo takes off his tunic and Mthethwa follows suit; the mimicry amusing for some audience members. A short duet communicated through gesture of hands, feet and torso focus mentor and mentee listening to the sounds of their imagined surroundings. Looking into the distance, the sounds propose our protagonists are camped for a night in the plains. Sequences of etched movement gestures performed by Hlatshwayo are mimed by Mthethwa. They eventually end opposite each other; their position casting a shadow against the cyc reminiscent of their relationship.
Arriving centre stage Hlatshwayo travels with Mthethwa following close behind. Stepping aside Hlatshwayo guides then allows Mthethwa to continue tentatively onward. Hlatshwayo watches intently. Their bond is one based on obligation and promise to reveal mysteries and inherit knowledge. Hlatshwayo utilises traditional ethos and sensibilities as foundation to craft a contemporary movement vocabulary that characterise honestly and succinctly a timeless relationship.
Plasticization – Nelisiwe Xaba; performed 12 June 2007
The theatre space is staged with light towers exposed with black curtains as the cyc. With house lights up, Xaba begins her work moving through audience members dressed in a plastic bag tied about her small torso with a plastic sash at the waist. Her head is covered by a plastic mask with ears. Xaba left leg has a red stocking and high heel shoe while the right leg adorns a point shoe. Passing through the audience Xaba takes a moment to unfold a plastic sheet the size of a tissue, hold it securely on her lips and kiss a male then a female audience member on the lips. With one spectator Xaba unfolds a toilet seat cover, lays it on the lap of the female audience member, seats and also kisses on the lips with plastic sheet shielding skin from possible contact.
Once on stage to several classical standards, Mozart’s Lacrimosa and Alexander Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances to name two, Xaba’s plastic dress becomes a plastic suitcase that she descends into. Legs and arms appear and descend in various shapes and suggestive arrangements as Xaba rolls inside. Variations to this visual expression are the addition of a gum boot and tatty plim (tennis) shoe on hands appearing from the plastic suitcase doing a witty phrase with legs. At one point a white stocking is slowly pulled onto the leg with the point shoe while Xaba kisses and fondles it. These resolve with a vibratory explosion with all shoes dropping to the floor. Xaba ends with a huge sigh and silence. Xaba leaves the performance space having taken off the point shoe and high heel and dropped a condom and other plastic covering items on the floor.
On the surface, Xaba’s dance seems simplistic, perhaps cliché given history in post modern dance that abandoned conventional movement vocabularies for pedestrian activities and manipulation of objects to pose political and social questions. Xaba’s dance can be associated with these other dance practices but has more resonance when situated in its context and alternative worldview. The point shoe and stockings tempt a feministic and thus superficial association. Xaba’s work needs a layer of sophistication to draw on awareness of trepidations in alternative societies where choice of shoes and music raise alternative significances. The work was developed in South Africa as a choreographic project. This is also where costume bag and mask were made. South Africa is currently in the mist of an AIDS epidemic. Xaba’s dance is a reaction to the consequences of this epidemic.
In the post show talk held 12 June it is revealed Xaba’s journey through the audience and attempts at intimacy obstructed by a layer of plastic is a statement about “prevention”. In Xaba’s lived experience, despite social initiatives to educate locally and global awareness, intimacy in South Africa and the world is a life threatening venture. One effect is the prevention of any cutaneous touch. The music is a backdrop to Xaba’s interpretation commenting on a country that is replete with churches; churches that do not encourage the use of plastic condoms and so complicit, religious ideologies foregrounding disease perpetuated by ignorance. Xaba musical choices an indication of the heightened level of despair in a context clinging to ill advised and ill informed mores. Each shoe though intriguing, even comic presents a character who resides in the bag with Xaba. The shoes are not so much a comment on protection as much as ethnicity; styles of shoes indicative of class, gender, and style of dance; the privileged and the destitute. The effect of the AIDS crisis knows no national border, class status, gender or artistic practice. With these readings in mind, Xaba’s dance is an activist’s interpretation of the status quo; her reaction to the dreadfulness of this predicament. Audience members are encouraged to be open minded and view this dance and thus the pandemic of AIDS from an alternative perspective.
C’est à dire… Seydou Boro / Compagnie Salia nï Seydou: performed 12 June 2007
Programmed after Xaba’s Plasticization, C’est à dire begins in the interval as audience members choose to remain seated or move about. Seydou Boro enters the performance space placing three stones downstage centre, a towel upstage right and shirt and bottle of water about mid stage on the stage right side. There is also a black box downstage left with a rope on the floor next to it and a microphone attached to the light tower. In amber light and the audience in full light he begins moving. A few circular arm gestures and lunges are followed by stillness. Boro then sits on the black box with his back to the audience playing a guitar. Wearing only a pair of fit cotton khakis one can see every detail of his torso’s musculature with his voice a visceral sound of rhythmical resonance revealed in soft tissue about his lumbar spine. The guitar sound is a musical sketch containing an assortment of recurring chords performed in loop fashion as Boro sings melodiously.
The music is stopped by a twitch in Boro’s left shoulder; like an itch he can’t quite get to, Boro shudders, places the guitar on the floor and returns centre stage to explore the same movement phrase. Boro continues this movement and musical exploration throughout the interval. Both disciplines build in intensity; cascading recurring melodious song in voice; circular, angular, bending in torso and legs. Boro begins his narrations, a mixture of anecdotes and parody, from a posture of exhaustion. Several monologues present his politics regarding family relations, ethnic heritage, Africa, African dance and life by describing past events, present conditions and propositions for future life. As Boro only speaks French, English subtext is projected through a signing panel hanging on the cyc, audience members reading words as well as movement.
Boro’s perspectives are articulated verbally while his movements though mundane and pedestrian are emotive. The recorded score besides Boro’s playing is also guitar music and other assorted sounds and silence to support dramatic inferences. Only in a few phrases did Boro perform moves that could be described as having traditional movement lineage with culturally specific embodiments. In one phrase Boro performs a well known African movement inflection with knees pulled to his chest with graceful undulation of arms. In another phrase shudders through out the body allude to spiritual incantations. Inconsolable rage is tempered with a stone carried during a verbal diatribe. This monologue ends when Boro smashes the rock on the floor; his posture defiant as well as redemptive. Boro is a trained actor as well as dancer and musician and it is through gesture that his perspectives are rendered. It would seem that phrases of conventional movement vocabularies no matter how designed would have no place in a work where posture, spatial arrangement and use of lighting states, modulation of locomotion to emphasise dramatic inference, and relation and use of objects are the frame in which dialectical encounters are rendered.
Boro exclaims that traditional African dance is a prostitute; a comment on its ability to be mixed with other forms and used in multiple ways. An anecdote characterises Africa as Hell and a rope tied around his neck the unfortunate colonial and post colonial state of Africans who seem inevitably led from one political catastrophe to the next. Many of Boro’s remarks are directed to those on the African continent to end the reiteration and reinvention of political and economical inaptitude. From his daughter not understanding what he does for a living to twisting a towel to demonstrate death, Boro illustrates others and his own ambivalence towards being a choreographer who is African. Dance making is insignificant, perhaps trivial given the circumstances he finds himself but from his position of privilege Boro can use dance making as a conduit to revelation. Boro explains that the stage is not reality and there is only one truth in death and dance and you must find it for yourself. A point Boro emphasises by leaving the towel in a wash of blue light as a metaphorical death of a child. Movement and verbal are a continuum through which the portrayal of emotional intent fuels his journey. Boro chooses to cause an effect, stir an emotion and encourage audience members to interrogate the work to examine their positionality as well as his.
THEA NERISSA BARNES