Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe and Laurie Booth
Mantsoe: 'Bupiro-Mukiti' and 'Ndaa'
October 26, 2003 -- Robin Howard Theatre, The Place, London
October 28, 2003 -- Greenwich Dance Agency, London
by Thea Nerissa Barnes
Laurie Booth has stated, "What we suffer from in this country is a lack of analysis as to how things happen aesthetically speaking." This seems a challenge to allow his work to describe its significance from its own perspective. This is a challenge to observe and describe an event; to witness the performance and if possible fathom how the work is made. Most importantly it is a challenge to abandon familiar ideas of what is and how dance occurs.
To explore aesthetic preferences in Booth and Mantsoe is to explore the logic behind dance making. One analyses the balance between form and content, analyses the chosen movement vocabulary, then examines the use of mime, metaphor and metonym. With Booth and Mantsoe the manipulation of the performative act itself is at the crux of their work; how the performer negotiates the terrain between himself that is the art and the audience who witnesses his negotiation. Thinking archaeology is another strategy learned from Booth whose excavations in the more seminal of human kinetic sensation runs parallel to Mantsoe’s excavations that merge his faith and spirituality with concert dance performance. Also, being solo performers makes the art readily available because there is no intermediary to diffuse intentions.
At Vincent Mantsoe’s performance 26 October 2003 at The Place: Robin Howard Dance Theatre, there was a heighten level of ritual. There was a sense that the audience was witnessing a spiritual event. "Bupiro-Mukiti" dance of life (2002) finds its inspiration in an African legend from the Bantu-speaking peoples. Mantsoe’s invests his embodied knowledge of movement vocabularies from Africa, Asia, and Europe with his spirituality. It is this that serves as a starting point for Mantsoe to expound on tradition through movement. Sitting on his heels, Mantsoe beats a small drum and each beat expels white dust. The dance moves from sitting to standing and then a bird like walk that has its own level of sacredness. The music created the sound scape for Mantsoe’s movement to surge through.
Mantsoe second work, "Ndaa" (World Premiere) asks a question, “Is there anyone here, is there something existing around me that I can not see or hear. Am I existing between reality and imagination. Do you see me?” Mantsoe strokes the bottom of his foot as he takes a momentary glance to the audience. Was this gesture addressing the audience; his eyes seem to indicate so. There are seven bamboo reeds placed in the space in a particular way creating a surrounded area that Mantsoe weaves in and out of. The bamboo reeds serve as boundaries that restrict his travels but enable the space to be traversed in a limited but determined manner. Most memorable of the music was the banter of Gabon Bibayak Pygmies. These conversations created a familiar ambiance of people gathered sharing pleasantries, passing the time of day. When people meet, what is shared in the glance of an eye, a touch of hand or tilt of head? Do we recognise only what we see or what other dimensions of them have we considered, have we missed. In the gathering, who else stands amongst us, behind us and is there the possibility to touch a spiritual entity? Mantose says, We breath a flesh we cannot see… Is our exhalation the enlivenment of spiritual entities? Mantsoe’s expiration is a means to share a bit of him self with an audience member making the blowing of his breath an offering of his spirit. For Mantsoe, without the energy to receive and give back what is the point.
It is not enough to write Mantsoe “takes you on a journey”. Can the written text really describe the landscape he traverses? Can it name the clusters of experiences that signpost the spiritual ness of his art? The tension and dynamic escalates from stillness to jubilance or is it exaltation or some form of fanatical ecstasy. This experiential journey seeks a liminal response; the performative act more than possession or sensual ness, more than the translation of dance movement into embodied expertise. Here too is archaeology of the dancing person. Contemporary and Afro-fusion are the vocabularies South African Vincent Mantsoe has trained in. He bases his work on ritual and spirits and is influenced by South African cultures, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Balinese. Mantsoe has desired to dance since he was born and is the progeny of a Zulu sangoma. Having a workable knowledge of dance styles from several cultures, Mantsoe borrows, merges only that sense of movements he understands or touches him in a special way. Mantsoe uses nuances from varied sources to combine or compliment different movement expressions. It could be a movement idea, a dynamic, or a particular movement quality that he will then re-shape to make his own personal expression. This same manner of choice is used for the music that supports the environment or provides the rhythms for his dances. Mantsoe does not use improvisation; his dances being the result of hours of research and practice. Mantsoe intends to choreograph a journey of self-healing that offers, indeed invites audience members to travel spiritually also. Mantsoe believes ...the spirit of each and every individual person... is not different... but at the end of the day we all have a common goal... which is healing and peace. Mantsoe is drenched in content. Form in this aesthetic is the vehicle through which content speaks.
Mantsoe invests his movement with meanings that go beyond the commonness or what is thought to be the “tradition” of African dance. Mantsoe seeks a communion with audience members so that they can join him on his plane where ancestral knowing leads to intercultural sharing and recognition. This is a revisionist device to transcend staid, shortsightedness that curtails the transcendence of cultural encounters. This is Mantsoe’s way of cultivating the possibilities inherent in the meeting of varied experiences or varied life views. In his performance and especially in the work, "Ndaa", Mantsoe has reverent joy, dedication, and passion that are evidenced in the meticulousness with which he shapes his movement. This is done not just to convey significance but also to serve as a conduit between him, audience members and the spirituality he believes resides within and around all of us.
Laurie Booth at Greenwich Dance Agency 28 October was an emergence after a couple of year’s absence from the British dance scene. This event came with its share of expectations that had nothing to do with the artist. In the gathering outside before the performance a punter said, “Oh I hope Laurie isn’t going to do what he usually does”. Well, why was this person even there except to make Booth’s performance the forum for her own aggrandisement. I believe Booth seeks the infinitesimal in movement. I suggest, if you have no interest in this stay home. This has seemed to be the basis of Booth’s aesthetic in the past and it was enormously inspired and honestly pursued then. Booth digs deep for the liminal of movement experience to access that, which is embodied and derived through muscle memory. With Booth you witness the transformation of form; Booth’s movements reveal the archaeology of his dancing body. Booth’s movement vocabulary draws on the martial arts, aikido, Tai Chi, and Capoeira. Booth is also a qualified Gyrotonic instructor. These movement languages are Booth’s improvisatory tools. What are the deepest sensations embodied in the performative act that improvisation can draw on; that merges his lived experiences with embodied expressions that tap his neuromuscular memories; that even tap his genealogy? "Ice/Dreams/Fire" is Booth’s means to explore in real time his visceral understandings, his interpretations of tattoos found on the skin of people found frozen in Serbian permafrost for 6000 years. Booth’s visceral enquiry seeks a communion with ideas, metaphors and metonyms that have disappeared and reappeared in cave paintings of many generations of hunter/gatherer peoples of varied cultures around the globe. Booth touches his blood memory and becomes an archaeological device himself to embody those sensate knowings.
Every element of Booth’s work strengthens its improvisatory structure and thereby contributes to its indeterminate nature. There are three parts roughly twenty minutes long: "Ice": having a confined, internally shirk feel; "Dreams": expansive use of body, sound and light; "Fire": mystery and a test for exhaustion. The space is already alive with the sound made by frozen red shirts hanging from the ceiling and dripping water into aluminium pails. This is a re-creation of Thomas Richards’ sculpture "From the first to the Final State. Transitions no. 1.9-6." The shirts were white in the gallery but the colour red was the choice for the dance because of its metaphoric associations. As the shirts melt their visual configuration changes making their density and un-raffling activity change the way one sees Booth around and through the sculpture. Jeanne Spaziani’s costume design give Booth’s form a well travelled, wanderer look. With eyeshades and walking cane, loose trousers and a shirt that allows the tattoos on Booth’s arm to be seen I can fathom a rugged landscape through which Booth walks. Michael Mannion’s lighting design emphasised each mood contrasting subdued blues to speckled white floor patterns demarcating each phase of the dance. Nick Rothwell sits downstage centre, in front of Richard’s art work manipulating layers of sound from a dub of Jone San Martin’s voice over, contact microphones and synthesizer noices to shape the sound scape in real time. As the shirts melt each bucket makes its own tone as the composer sits with his back to the audience, facing his control panel, facing the performer.
In the post show talk Richard Alston pointed out that he has always been intrigued by Booth’s extraordinary ability to investigate the “corners” of movement. Booth explores the moment of sensation; the abyss of movement in time. Booth is a formalist captured by the intertextuality of movement as the result of contemplative thought. Form is the key here with content the springboard not the intention. Audience members’ bring their own interpretations and invest individual interpretations of Booth’s art. You can see the imagery and fathom impressions of warrior stances, animal characters, even mundane poses like carrying a baby or warming by a fire or you can be intrigued by Booth’s performative, improvisatory act; his use of energy, shifts in dynamic, his conversation with himself to shape a move, curve spine, land on his hand or spin a cane. With Booth, content is a latent possibility, somewhere deep in the estuaries of his creative process but not the reason for its being. Content is something the witness, audience members and their varied life experiences bring to his work. Booth has developed his own extraordinary movement language on the way to clarifying his own art. With this comes a philosophy that underpins each gesture that despite its indeterminate nature is indelible.
There are similarities and dissimilarities a plenty between these artists and their chosen aesthetics. Recently and given the recognition Booth has received in the 25th anniversary season of Dance Umbrella, we have possibly arrived at a point in time when Laurie Booth’s art may be considered mainstream, or at least no longer “cutting edge”. Vincent Mantsoe is in the beginning of his international notoriety yet his genre has multiple traditions and preconceived notions that mitigate against and misconstrue the place of his work. In the end the aesthetic of each speaks to its being.
Edited by Jeff.
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