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!

Diosdado Ramos interview

Posted in Uncategorized | March 22, 2011 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Check out this recent Spanish language interview with Diosdado Ramos, leader of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas! Recorded by Rosi Reyes of KPFA in San Francisco, the second stop on the group’s 16-city U.S. tour beginning April 1!

Muñequitos de Matanzas by rosireyes

A new kind of music

Posted in Uncategorized | February 25, 2010 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Steven Reker in rehearsal at Morishita Studios in Tokyo, Japan

Steven Reker in rehearsal at Morishita Studios in Tokyo, Japan

“Where language would have been, we had to use the work as the medium for communication… And in there was a space or opportunity to discover how we were both approaching our shared work. ”  -Steven Reker

Listen to a preview of the music in Tyler Tyler here.

From Julie Alexander & Kayvon Pourazar: Rehearsing Tyler Tyler in Japan

Posted in Uncategorized | February 5, 2010 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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From Kayvon Pourazar: This was such a short trip, but I don’t know if it could be possible to be immersed into such a deep aspect of Japanese culture as a visitor in such a short amount of time any more than we did. I never imagined that the work that I do as a dancer could bring about the opportunity for such vast doors to be opened. It is a huge privilege to have experienced this trip to Japan.

From Julie Alexander: Studying with Masumi Sensei was incredible. The Nezu school where we trained the first day is so quiet, clean and beautiful and there is such a tone of reverence in that space that Masumi Sensei governs with quiet authority. We gave her our gifts. We were so careful to enter the room on our knees, respectfully, and to offer our gifts to her. She seemed very excited to have us there. The training was intense. We each worked with her one on one while the other watched. She was so conscious of our bodies, being sure we were okay sitting on our knees the whole time. She was so detailed when she was training us, but quite different than our experience with Kayo Sensei in Florida. With Kayo Sensei, we focused on the form and technique and we were able to communicate the visual information through our bodies. Masumi Sensei also focused on form, of course, but we definitely relied on Yasuko to translate for us as well, because Masumi Sensei really wanted us to understand the stories, history and tradition in these dances. During rehearsal, she brought out traditional incense smelling set so we could see the objects and the tradition that are referenced in one of the dances that Kayvon does. She took such care in wrapping and unwrapping the objects and explaining exactly how they are used – not just functionally, but there is an art and a physical form involved in the delicate act.

This attention to detail that we’ve been honing in on in studying this traditional Japanese dance form is so much a part of Japanese culture from what I experienced first-hand in Tokyo – from the architecture and the food to the paper-wrapped chopsticks and the efficient subway chart (which I was particularly impressed by).

Through the studio showings, we learned that it is customary in Japan for audience or friends to bring food for the performers. We were showered with food… pastries and rice crackers and lotus root and this delicious potato with a wonderful texture. And we learned the usefulness of the phrase- “otsukaresama.” It’s hard to translate in English. But from what I understand, means something like “good job” or “you must be tired” or any time there is some sort of effort involved or even answering the telephone.