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.

coming full circle with vuyani dance theatre

Posted in Uncategorized | November 20, 2009 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Beautiful Me, Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre’s critically adored work which is currently in its sixth and last week of a debut U.S. tour,  got its start at the Bates Dance Festival in 2005 as a project of  The Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium (see the video above). The tour, also a project of the Consortium, brings the project full circle 4 years later.

Bates Dance Festival provides valuable creative time and space to contemporary African artists and is often an early step on the road to bringing these artists and their work to American audiences.  They, along with other presenters, multi-art centers and universities in the Consortium, are interested in developing relationships that go deeper than simply bringing work to the stage. Residencies including master classes, panels, informal discussions and dance parties, build upon relationships developed over years of commitment to the artist, and strengthen meaningful and poetic connections with the artist and the work. Tell us about your experience!