October 2, 2012 | by emilyharney
After several years of conversations and planning, it is difficult to believe that the New York stage of the Voices of Strength tour has come and gone. In addition to striking performances, choreographers Nelisiwe Xaba, Kettly Noël, Gbahihonon Nadia Beugré, Maria Helena Pinto, and Bouchra Ouizguen participated in a series of thought provoking conversations and social events.
Because this important group of artists is largely unknown in the United States, MAPP wanted to explore intimate opportunities for the community to meet the artists off-stage. Much more potent than the “see and be seen” cocktail party, MAPP held an informal welcome gathering at Pangea Restaurant, and in partnership with New York Live Arts, organized thematically-relevant discussions pre and post-performance, and hosted an Artists Exchange Luncheon with New York City based dance-makers. At these events, participants were able to have one-on-one interactions, which sparked rich dialogue and enhanced viewings of the performances. For example, attendees at the welcome gathering gained insights into the conceptual underpinnings of the props. Maria Helena Pinto shared that the work “Sombra” emerged from her decision to use a common household item, a bucket, literally and figuratively to render her as faceless and anonymous. Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba also shared anecdotes about how their blossoming friendship, and the challenges of shifting from oral or written conversations to movement conversations, fomented the critical layers of collaboration necessary to build the work “Correspondances”. Not only were the artists generous about sharing that information, but their individual passions about making work became extremely pronounced. These conversations rendered a more profound authenticity to the (already powerful) experience of their voices on-stage.
Perhaps indicative of a zeitgeist, the premier of these works fell concurrently with performances by Nora Chipaumire and Faustin Linyekula (also contemporary artists utilizing complex personal narratives to confront one-dimensional stereotypes of Africa). As a result, many provocative questions and insights arose throughout the week. Audience members were challenged to recognize their own assumptions about “African dance”, and then break those assumptions down in order to embrace the multi-dimensionalities of these women and their unique perspectives. Several recent reviews took on all of these works as if they were in conversation including: “Lessons Learned: Transcribing the African Reality through Dance” by Azza Satti and “Out of Africa” by Deborah Jowitt.
As scholar Joan Frosch articulated so succinctly, “The encounters across American cities and towns will have been brief but all the more precious for that. These artists will not only sharpen our capacity to perceive, but to imagine anew. Indeed, the decolonization of perceptions, practices, institutions, and histories is a pedagogy far from finished.” Certainly, New York has been left with their voices ringing in our ears.