Voices of Strength Seen and Heard in NYC!

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.

The tour continues to Washington D.C. (October 4-5), Minneapolis (October 10-13), and San Francisco (October 19-20). You don’t want to miss it!

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Welcome Samita Sinha!

July 18, 2012 | by emilyharney

MAPP’s newest producing project is Cipher, created and performed by composer and vocal artist, Samita Sinha. We’re thrilled to be moving into a new and deeper relationship with Samita, who we came to know through her performance in Sekou Sundiata’s the 51st (dream) state and her partnership in the People’s Potlucks.

Here’s a short audio recording to introduce her beautiful voice: ERI, a vocal piece composed and arranged by Samita based on a  traditional “thumri” (semi-classical Hindustani love song):

Samita Sinha ERI by mappinternational

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Lars Jan Show & Tell

July 11, 2012 | by emilyharney

On June 22, MAPP hosted a Show & Tell with artist Lars Jan about his new project HOLOSCENES. In the studio in which Lars held a three-week design atelier with his collaborators, a small group gathered to hear about the results of the group’s first concentrated work time.  During this “design atlelier” Jan and his collaborators experimented and drafted ideas for the size and structure of the project’s jumbo aquariums and also identified the 52 global locations from which they will draw rituals.

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All that is beautiful comes from beautiful

June 12, 2012 | by emilyharney

For our third gathering of the Miriam Read & Reflect group, Okwui Okpokwasili led us in an exploration of beauty—how we feel it in our lives, how it lives in Miriam, and what Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies  can show us about it. The Duino Elegies, in addition to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chenjerai Hove’s Bones, is one of the key sources informing Nora Chipaumire’s creative process.


We started out looking through a whole host of images provided by Okwui to get us thinking about different definitions of beauty and discussing perhaps the most obvious definition: surface beauty, defined by others and pop culture, fashion, men. But inspired by the Rilke, another definition quickly emerged: a beauty that is awe-inspiring and terrible, that comes from being fully open to intensity of experience, both despair and love.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? And even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.

One question that arose is do these things always exist at the same time? Is one a hint at the other? In everyday experience when people experience something beautiful are they also touching a greater experience?

And how does context change the understanding of beauty? Where can beauty come from? Can you see beauty in ugliness? And when is it not okay to call something beautiful, when in another context (our out of context) the same combination of materials may be perceived as beautiful?

In Miriam, Nora begins the piece in darkness, among a pile of trash bags and rocks—a crime scene. Is there beauty in the scene? And if it is in her own body, how is it complicated by the fact that hers is a black, African body among the refuse? And that it is twinned with and provoked by another in Okwui Okpokwasili’s character?


Again from the Rilke:

Who shows a child as he really is? Who sets him
in his constellation and puts the measuring-rod
of distance in his hand? Who makes his death
out of gray bread, which hardens — or leaves it there
inside his round mouth, jagged as the core
of a sweet apple?. . . .  Murderers are easy
to understand. But this: that one can contain
death, the whole of death, even before
life has begun, can hold it to one’s heart
gently, and not to refuse to go on living,
is inexpressible.


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Three days in Jozi

February 20, 2012 | by cathyz

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday morning after a 14 hour non-stop flight. Having cleared customs, I was happy to see Lawrence — our wonderful driver — holding up a sign with my name on it as I emerged from the baggage claim area. I haven’t been to Johannesburg since 2004 but everything feels familiar– not because I’ve been here before but familiar as in connected in some way to my life in the States. The feeling is shared by some of my American colleagues who are here with me as part of The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium. Over the next days, we remark how we see and feel our culture here — and for once it’s a good thing.

The drive from the airport to my guest house in Melville is about an hour and I query Lawrence about his life in Johannesburg. Has it improved since I was here last? Because the first impressions I have is that this city is alive, and I don’t feel the same tension in the air that I remembered during my last visit. He tells me that things are much improved for him. He says the government is beginning to take better care of its people. They are giving out more loans so people can get apartments or homes facilities for the elderly are being provided; and people are also getting better healthcare. Lawrence tells me that there are many, many new roads and stadiums which were built for the Olympics and that there remains a great sense of pride that Johannesburg was able to host the Olympics and to do so successfully.

Of course there are still many, many problems and in the ensuing days, we see performances that articulate some of them: the reclaiming of a personal history long suppressed is the subject of Gregory Maqoma’s Exit/Exist; the struggles women and girls face related to reproductive health are the grist in Neli Xaba’s deceptively cunning performance and video installation Uncles & Angels; and corruption, power and greed and the resultant collapse that follows in Jay Pather’s massive work, Beware Caesar, set in the bowels of the Stock Exchange.

Of course we are managing to eat very well and testing South Africa’s great wines in Melville’s many varied and low key restaurants. Today being Sunday, it’s market day and I managed to get some beautiful woven tapestries and other items at the African Craft Market.

Marj Neset, Laura Faure, Cathy Zimmerman and Joan Frosch in Joburg

Over the next four days we’ll see more work, attend a star-studded fundraiser at the Dance Umbrella Festival, and meet with theater and dance artists at a breakfast hosted by the Market Theatre. Our Consortium will conduct two planning meetings with South African artists and colleagues to share ideas and future projects and to devise a system of artist to artist exchange between our two continents.  Stay tuned…

And! Consortium colleague Laura Faure is blogging as well. For her perspective check out The Bates Dance Festival blog!

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