Being “inside” the practice

Posted in Uncategorized | February 4, 2011 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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Sekou Sundiata’s America Project has had lasting effects throughout every part of MAPP – perhaps most significantly on our ideas of community engagement and the role of the arts in civic dialogue. Above my desk I have a strip of paper taped to the wall that reads, in Sekou’s words, “the intersection of art, imagination, humanities and public engagement” to remind me to think about all of those elements when building programs to support public interaction with artists. One of the ways we’re striving to continue his vision is through something currently called “The America Project Knowledgebase” which we’re building in partnership with the design and research firm Buscada.

The Knowledgebase is meant to support the evolution of The America Project by learning from and connecting practitioners of The America Project methodology through the creation of a web-based resource and a range of publications (from email blasts to a documentary film, for example). Through it we’re looking to understand more how people are using the Teaching Method and how it intersects with their own practice, and then to feed this information back into the world to inspire new practices of collaboration, creativity and citizenship. Again and again and again….

One part of building the Knowledgebase (among many) is in-depth interviews with practitioners we know are already engaged in this work. Yesterday we had a meeting with Buscada to discuss the strategy we’ll employ in these interviews and spent quite a while talking about ways that we can keep the interview “inside” the practice, rather than “about” the practice. How can we set up part of the interview as a simulation of practice to get people out of their heads and thinking in a more indirect way? Maybe it just means walking through a neighborhood while talking? Or dancing while talking? Or for a teacher, being in the classroom where they do their work? If their practice is largely collaborative, does it make sense for the interview to be with multiple people? What does it mean for an arts presenter or someone who runs a community organization?

We’d love to hear your ideas.

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.

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.

Art, Artists and Human Rights Policy

Posted in Uncategorized | December 17, 2009 | by emilyharney | (1) Comment

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during her Remarks on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall yesterday, responded to a question about “creative practice accompanying and amplifying policy:”

I think the arts and artists are one of our most effective tools in reaching beyond and through repressive regimes, in giving hope to people… artists can bright to light in a gripping, dramatic way some of the challenges we face. You mentioned the play about women in the Congo. I remember some years ago seeing a play about women in Bosnia during the conflict there. It was so gripping. I still see the faces of those women who were pulled from their homes, separated from their husbands, often raped and left just as garbage on the side of the road. So I think that artists both individually and through their works can illustrate better than any speech I can give or any government policy we can promulgate that the spirit that lives within each of us, the right to think and dream and expand our boundaries, is not confined, no matter how hard they try, by any regime anywhere in the world. There is no way that you can deprive people from feeling those stirrings inside their soul. And artists can give voice to that. They can give shape and movement to it. And it is so important in places where people feel forgotten and marginalized and depressed and hopeless to have that glimmer that there is a better future, that there is a better way that they just have to hold onto.

We applaud the sincerity and passion which comes across so clearly in this statement. And, there are so many ways to expand on her point: that it is not just the glimmer of hope in hearts and minds that makes the arts important, but also job creation, economic opportunity, and the engagement in civic life that comes with arts participation and creation in societies under repressive regimes and, more broadly, in cultures all over the globe in which people “feel forgotten and marginalized;”  and that it is not only about “outreach” and export of American culture abroad, but about creating an environment in which individuals and communities can develop sustained relationships through art and artists which leads to increased understanding– and hope– on all sides.

Congo Trip Notes: Faustin and Virginie’s Vision

Posted in Uncategorized | November 30, 2009 | by cathyz | Leave a Comment

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espace culture rehearsal space for beatricel

Faustin and Virginie strive to provide artistic opportunities and access for the local population and to bring the people and the country into contact with the broader world. Their vision is to create an arts community in Kisangani and to provide ways for artists to make a living through their art.

Just prior to my arrival, Tunisian artist Hafiz Dhaou taught a two-week workshop to a group of fifteen young aspiring hip hop dancers. Studios Kabako paid the dancers the equivalent of a decent meal and transport money to attend the workshop thereby insuring that the boys continued to come for the whole two weeks. After working with Hafiz,  three  of the more talented dancers have a fire in their belly to continue.

papy at bejarts

Papy Ebotani, an artist member of Les Studios Kabako, will teach a workshop in January.  A second workshop will take place in August 2010 possibly by  Senegalese choreographer Andreya Ouamba. Faustin and Virginie have invited some contemporary choreographers from Africa (Boyzie Cekwana and Panaibra Gabriel) to come to Kisangani, not to teach, but to exchange about their respective projects.

In October, Studios Kabako produced their third day-long music event featuring local hip hop artists which 4,000 people attended. The day was totally peaceful and created a desire in the community for more. The plan is to stage another smaller music event in December but this decision is pending fund raising since the events are free to the public.

Studios Kabako has been supporting Papy Ebotani as he’s been developing his artistic voice and teaching skills—commissioning new work and sending him abroad to perform and teach. This year, for the first time, Papy generated income for Studios Kabako.

While all this sounds very positive (and it is), life here is beyond difficult and I find myself confused and overwhelmed by what the people are up against. Faustin often feels a sense of hopelessness and sometimes wonders  why he is doing this work in Kisangani, but then there are those moments when someone “gets it.” Those moments keep him going.