Voices of Strength Seen and Heard in NYC!

Posted in Uncategorized | October 2, 2012 | by emilyharney | (1) Comment

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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!

Three days in Jozi

Posted in Uncategorized | February 20, 2012 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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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!

A message from Gregory Maqoma

Posted in Uncategorized | December 18, 2009 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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The US tour of Beautiful Me was a great experience for me and the musicians in that since 2007 we have been performing the work to mostly European audiences with a very small black audience representation. The US tour allowed the work to reach a more diverse audience that questioned, discussed and became curious not only of the continent of Africa but also of the African aesthetic that is cross-cultural in the work. This curiousness helped me to further understand the idea of displacement as Africans living in other parts of the world. This displacement connects us as Africans in these countries as we are longing for some representation and reflection of a place we call home. And when we reflect we become critical of ourselves, of our leadership and cultural givens and perceptions. Hence the after talks were a critical point of the performances as they allowed the audience to understand something that is even deeper about the work, to understand my connections with my continent, other cultures and the world.

We received, everywhere we went, a human gesture of love and care. Technical teams were sensitive to the technical demands of the work and gave their time and dedication in making sure that the technical aspects of the work are of the highest standard. Theatre directors gave their time and often came more than once to witness the work. I believe we have built a following in the US and it is something that is very important for us as a company to know that people are talking still about the work. I still receive e-mails from people who came to see the work, talking of their fulfilling experience.

Connecting with students at Bates and other places was for us also an important part of opening a window to the understanding of contemporary African dance but also a window to the possibility of embracing other cultures to inform about our history, but also to tell the present and predict the future. I value the professional handling of the tour from the time we started to the end. I thank MAPP and the Africa Consortium for believing in the work and I hope we have lived to the promise of delivering a world class performance.

Congo Trip Notes: Leaving Kinshasa

Posted in Uncategorized | December 10, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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Leaving Kinshasa, I’m renewed in my conviction that artists are critical thinkers, provocateurs and primary thought leaders possessing the skills and rigor needed to create pathways for understanding and social change. I feel a purposeful connection to what Faustin and Virginie are doing that could not have been possible without my sharing, even briefly, their life in Kisangani.  I’m sobered by the challenges they face and worry about the artists and people I’ve come to know and have now left behind. At the same time, I see that even the smallest act of genuine interest can have profound impact. I understand Faustin’s art and work more profoundly. The structure, ideas, ambiance and context of his work is Congolese; the craft and imagination is the artist, Faustin.

It is also very clear to me that The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium’s commitment to engage in this way is no small thing and it comes with responsibility. We must take the appropriate next steps to build on these trips.

Three weeks later…

In a quiet moment three weeks after my return from my visit with Faustin and Virginie, travel notes and financial reports complete, the rhythms of Kisangani waft through my senses.

The enfolding green of the forest which is embraced by two beautiful flowing rivers. The red clay of the earth that connects the people so intimately to their land. The people who are bound by community and whose daily lives are lived mostly in plain sight walking, riding bikes, and carrying food and other goods. The buildings, beautiful and sad in their detritus, oozing with a powerful sense of place a complex history and a precarious future yet to unfold.  I recall the many young artists I met, the urgency of their endeavors and the sincerity of their interactions with me.

Congo Trip Notes: Last days in Kinshasa

Posted in Uncategorized | December 9, 2009 | by cathyz | (1) Comment

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It does feel that Kinshasa is striving toward modernity. In certain neighborhood quarters there are new apartment buildings going up. The Chinese are investing in Congo and their efforts are noticeable as they are building a big modern hospital and a soccer stadium. I was told there are plans for Chinese investment towards infrastructure and road building, etc. There are neighborhoods of gigantic mansions with barbed wire atop high stone fences. In these neighborhoods, where expats and wealthy Congolese live, there are paved streets and yards. Unfortunately, according to people I spoke to, very few of these advances have any impact on the daily life of most Congolese and corruption continues at all levels.

My last full day in Kinshasa, I had a tour of the city led by Paul Kerstens of KVS/Brussels. KVS has been working to develop artistic projects in Congo since 2005. They have supported and presented Faustin’s work (Festival of Lies, The Dialogue Series: iii Dinozord and more more more…future) and Jan Goossens (KVS’ Artistic Director) has visited Kisangani three times. Paul, the director of the Congo project, spends approximately six months a year there and pretty much knows the scene.

Most recently KVS organized – in partnership with Françoise Gardies, director of the Halle de la Gombe at CCF – the first festival of contemporary dance in Kinshasa. It lasted six days and, in addition to Alain Platel’s work Pitié!, there were workshops and presentations of work by performers from the Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique.

With Paul, who hired a driver so we could travel through the various “quarters” of the city where artists live and work, I visited two visual artists’ work spaces/homes/compounds; and Les Béjarts, a socio-cultural organization for young people where I was treated to an excerpted performance of a play they’re developing about everyday life in Kinshasa.  I also visited the Zoo Theatre (because it’s next to what used to be a zoo).   At one time it was a beautiful and busy theatre but now it’s decrepit and used mostly for rehearsals and community gatherings.

At the end of the day, Paul and I spoke about building on our two organization’s efforts in Africa through knowledge and resource sharing to create an international network that includes the U.S., Europe and Africa.  Stay tuned…