High Culture, Mass Culture, Urban Culture- Whose Dance?
University of Cape Town, South Africa
16-19 July 2008
The Confluences 5, which theme was the title of this conference report, invited us to think on urban culture and its engagement with contemporary theatre dance. The conference took place on 16-19 July hosted by the University of Cape Town School of Dance, chaired by Sharon Friedman, sponsored by The University of Cape Town, The Royal Netherdlands Embassy, The national Research Foundation, Cape Tercentenary Foundation and Distell. In the words of Gerard Samuel, School of Dance Director: “To all the Confluences 5 keynote speakers, presenters, and workshop facilitators, your insights will not only stimulate but provoke the necessary debate around Dance we are delighted to referee over this historic period. As dance students teachers, choreographers and dance directors Confluences 5 allows us all to celebrate in the transformative power of Dance.” The programmed proposal that in a social and political climate of globalization and the seemingly first world ease and flow knowledge, developing countries often “buy” into the contemporary social and artistic trends of other countries. This is evident in the growth of hip-hop culture and dance around the world. The Confluences 5 aimed to open for discussion, the relationship between popular culture, “high art”, and all the myriad categories/groupings in between and the manner in which they interface with the creative and education desire to journey into the ‘new territory’.
We had the possibility to debate interesting ideas on the value of contemporary dance theatre engaging forms of urban culture, Brenda Dixon Gottschild gave the keynote, titled ‘Researching performance – the (Black) Dancing body as a measure of culture’. By means of a slide lecture augmented with demonstration of her own dancing body, she examines the pervasive Africanist presence in America culture ant the socio-political implications of its invisibility. With dance as the focus and the race the parameter, she reveals Africanisms in modern and postmodern and American ballet. Other keynote speaker was Emile YX?, he is often considered to be one of the Godfathers of South African Hip Hop and continues to be an active B-Boy, MC, Graffiti artist and hip hop activist, his spokes on the understanding or overstanding hip hop and urban culture touches on the return to the humanity of all dances and its common history. Joan van der Mast, also gave a keynote where she deals with the history, the content and the relationship between Wester Modern Theater Dance and movement styles that originate from different cultures for example: Indian Dance, African Dance and classical Ballet.
Two lecture demonstration was offered in the Confluences: Daniel Renner showed us the Round Corner Technique as a dance vocabulary which uses the elements of modern dance and blends them with specific elements of street dance and hip hop. Nita Liem explored how fusion, adoption, breaking borders, migration explain landscape of working in the 21st Century. She said’: You cannot force your “language” on the people you work with; instead you must create a context from the to speak their “language,” a place where the can make their choice.” Other variety to engage in practical activity was the workshops. Maxwell Xolani Rani gave a workshop based on transforming the African traditional vocabulary into a modern form to suit the studio based atmosphere. Sandra Müller-Spude demonstrated in her workshop how we can use Laban principles and improvisation techniques to develop ‘street style’ choreography.
In the assorted subjects presented in the scholarly papers sessions I will mention some of them. An interesting case study was present by Bakare Babtunde Allen, titled Hip Hop and its growth into theatre: Drums of Freedom refers a dance Project of a final year student of Dramatic Arts Department, Obafemu Awolowo University, Nigeria. N Jade Gibson examined in he paper the contemporary Cape Jazz social dance, a ‘tradition’ in Cape Town, as dynamic and changing social practice over time, in relation to the recent emergence of Salsa dance. Lliane Loots offered a phenomenological self-interrogation of her choreographic work (and process of creating) ‘A fish out of water’ an her long term collaboration with slam/hip-hop Sotuh African poet and spoken word artist, Ewok. Kymberley Felham’s paper sets out to explore the transition of modern dance into the current contemporary trends, with an assessment of the genre as it appears on the popular televised dance compettion ‘So you think you cand dance’ (USA). In the same Session where I presented my paper ‘Dance as a journey: alterity and authenticity in education,’ more two works was examined. Firstly, Kyle DeBoer and Joni Barnard discussed them paper on the means of constructing a lesbian representation in dance through an examination of ‘gaze’ as a choreographic device. Secondly, Gerard Samuel raised many questions around the context that disability arts chiefly in South Africa to suggest a unique position for a contemporary dance by people with disabilities that profoundly rocks notions of perfection, dancing and ‘black’ bodies in dance.
Sharon Friedman opened a panel discussion in the last day of the conference, her paper attempted to raise some of the issues involved when we ask “Whose dance are we teaching in the classroom? The post-apartheid dance curriculum in South Africa is attempting to offer school learners both an education and training in dance as an art form. The question as to who is making the decision about what dance genes should be taught an in what context the decisions are being made, needs to be constantly revisited.
The Conference closed with an inspiring evening concert, were I had the opportunity to performer the solo ‘Journey.’ Where I discovered there are elements in common between a dance and a journey; both involve moving in time and in space. My participation in Confluences 5 required many journeys: an obvious one was the flight from Florianópolis in Brazil, to Cape Town in South Africa. However, there were others that are not so easy to see: the internal journeys, to become a dancer, to become a woman, and more recently to become a mother. In fact, all these are just a single journey, a journey to myself. In this journey I discovered that I am not alone. From this perspective, I presented a paper on alterity and authenticity in dance education in Brazil, also my solo. Emmanuel Levinas’ proposal of the “phenomenology of alterity” places the other at the centre of ethics. Against the egoism which all traditional ethics and philosophy as grounded, which understands my relation to myself as the primary relation, Levinas maintains that my responsibility to the other is the fundamental structure upon which all other social structures rest. To dance is an expression of freedom, but as Nelson Mandela wrote, with freedom comes responsibilities. We always dance with or for another, in this sense, we never dance alone. Dance is not a solitary activity. To the contrary, it is a movement in solidarity. To dance is a possibility to become one with other.
Ida Mara Freire
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina