The Festival Organiser and the Spirit of Oxóssi

This blog post has been playing around in my head for a while and with Tribal Remix V behind me and Tribal Remix VI preparations in full swing it feels like the perfect time to reflect a little and put these thoughts into written words.

First of all, let me tell you about Oxóssi, the Orixa of the hunt. He is the spirit that is associated with forests, animals and wealth. He is the spirit of meals, because it is he who provides food for his community. He is associated with lightness, astuteness, wisdom and craftiness of the hunt. He is the Orixa of contemplation, loving the arts and beautiful things. He hunts with a bow and arrow, hunting for good influences and positive energies.

When dancing the movements associated with Oxóssi , I experience the playfulness of his spirit. Occasionally, while riding his horse through the forest where he hunts to provide for his community, he falls off his horse, but approaches it with a playfulness and gets back on the horse again to continue his mission. He only takes from the forest what he needs to provide for his community in order to preserve its equilibrium.

I've been thinking about Oxóssi a lot while organising Tribal Remix. For me, this festival is about creating a platform for magic to happen. With the right intention in mind I can provide for the dance community and set up opportunities for people to share their love for dance, to connect and to be playful.

Let me tell you something you probably already know but let me tell you anyway: organising a festival is kind of hard work. It's incredibly physically and mentally demanding. And each year while going through it I really wonder why I do it. I'm only just recovering from last month and still trying to get back into my routine of my own dance practice. And every organiser can agree with me that at the end of the festival we think: I cannot wait until next year. Why? Because of the people that show up.

This post is about the people that participate in the event and drink some of the magic. In fact, they bathe in it! And I love this. This is the stuff that feeds the Oxossi spirit in me. It's not about the verbal appreciation and gratitude (although that of course is a nice bonus, thank you all for your kind words during and after the festival), but it's about being part of the experience, the joy, the laughter, the connection. I'm observing all of this while I'm looking around the room and this is what I bathe in!

I'm going through this real change in the last year or two, I'm trying to work more with awareness and authenticity. I try to sit down and ask myself: with this action, what is my intention here? And when I answer myself with authenticity I then ask myself: ok, does that resonate with the person I am right now, or the person that I aspire to be? I ask myself the same questions in relation to others, when conflict arises. What was my intention there and does that resonate with the person I am right now? I used to be a huge people pleaser and my intention was to feel appreciated by those people. When inevitably not every time I felt this appreciation I was hungry for, I'd feel incredibly empty or low and I would feel let down by those people. Now, rather than looking outside for affirmation, I try and look within. Were my intentions and actions coming from a place that feels in alignment with the person I'd like to be? If so, I can let go of the conflict, as I understand that I am not speaking the same language as that person anyway, so any explanation of my intentions seems futile. Now THAT, my friends, is my idea of freedom.

I love Tribal Fusion. I love the philosophy of Tribal Fusion and the global platform it has created for people to play. But this gets lost when the spirit of Oxossi doesn't get fed. When we become greedy, or when people (teachers, students, performers or organisers) start to feel entitled.  I salute all those festival organisers out there, however experienced or inexperienced you are at organising events. Don't let go of your initial intentions, but protect yourself in order to keep your Oxossi spirit alive. I also show my gratitude to all those teachers, performers and participants out there that contribute in keeping the Oxossi energy flowing.

I would like to thank Sophie Enever, Charlotte Wassel, Elise Phillips and Jamie Christos for your support during and before the festival as I couldn't have done this year without you.

Also a thank you to Ana and Dave Winson, Hilton Lijun, Zoe Choomchor, Mandy Rossiter, Sinem Ayman, Samantha Reader, Agnė Denapaitė and Emma Hubbard (and most likely a few others that helped in the background, that perhaps I didn't notice because of the mental state I was in at that time...hah) for stepping in last minute during the festival and helping out. I appreciated your observation skills when you could see I could do with a helping hand (or a glass of wine, thank you, Sinem!).

See you next May!

These images were taken by the wonderful Agnė Denapaitė who stepped in last minute, when my photographer fell through.

Movement For Truth

Why do we dance? Why do I dance? I often try to reflect on this question. It is exactly 20 years ago that I discovered my love for dance. And I still tend to ask myself that same question. The answer often changes, but like most of us I always come to the same simple conclusion: because it makes me feel good. Yet this conclusion has become more refined over the years. I believe in dance. I believe in how it heals us. I believe it helps us deal with loneliness, depression, physical limitations and so forth, I believe it can be a tool for communication. I lost my faith in dance for a while. I went off track: I was thinking of photo shoots, youtube videos, what workshops would sell, what would be successful. I thought that's what differs a professional dancer from a hobbyist. And perhaps in a way it does, but in that journey I lost something very important. Why do I dance?

Movement For Humanity - Kigali, June 2016

In June 2016 myself and my friend and colleague Tjarda Van Straten (NL) went to Rwanda to work intensively for 3 weeks with a group of local dancers, working towards a performance that was going to be staged at the amphitheatre at the genocide memorial in Kigali. No pressure... A place so powerful that symbolizes the failure of humanity. The journey leading up to this trip really started when I saw the image that circulated social media of the 3 year old toddler Aylan Kurdi that washed up on the shores in Turkey in September 2015. All I could think of was: enough. Enough of turning the other way and staying in my wonderful bubble of sequins and spotlights. I wanted to find a way to bring my love for dance together with current affairs that were happening in the world today. Not with any illusion to change the world, but to perhaps make even the slightest bit of difference to just a handful of people. Some of you might have read about my experience in the Calais Jungle, where I taught a dance workshop at Good Chance Theatre. Some of the stories I gathered there as well as the stories of refugees I read or watched online were the inspiration of the work in Rwanda. So when I found out that curator of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali Hope Azeda was interested in showcasing some work I decided to call Tjarda and proposed the idea of creating work together.

Collaborating with another choreographer in this way, choreographing in a different country with its own systems, working intensively for 3 weeks with people we had never met before,... all of this was new to me. And looking back, it still amazes me how we pulled it off. Not only that, but the result of this collaboration exceeded my expectations far beyond I could even imagine. The ripple effects of this trip will continue flowing for many years to come. This experience has changed me on such a deep level and I know many of our dancers felt the same way. The many challenges we faced didn't stop us from making this happen. After failing to get arts funding in different avenues, we decided to speak to our online audiences and set up a kickstarter to raise the funds needed for this trip. From where I was standing: this project was bigger than us. It was not about the next step in our career, it was about creating work for humanity that sent a strong message across on a symbolic stage at a festival that had humanity (ubumuntu) as its theme. So one thing that was important to me was truth. And working with an incredible artist like Tjarda, who I admire for her integrity in the arts, was just what I needed. For her this piece symbolized something else than for me, but for me, this piece was about giving a voice to refugees all over the world. Those that suffer from loss of identity through their displacement and those that find humane moments by working together through their suffering. And that was the beauty of this piece: each dancer was dancing for their own cause, bringing truth and integrity to the performance.

We wanted to offer something else for the dancers, not only a piece that they could perform again after we have left but clear tools in how to create dances so that they could use these tools for their own work in future. Both Tjarda and I are Laban trained. We are from different schools, yet many elements overlap. We used these tools to create work and explained the processes we used. Through the use of stories and imagery the dancers created solo material in their own style of dance. We had 2 dancers specialising in traditional Rwandan Dance, one dancer that specialised in Acogny's African Modern technique, one breakdancer,... in other words: a really mixed bag. The struggle but also the exciting part of this piece was to bring each individual style to the surface while making it work as a whole. That alone sends out a strong message, I believe.

I want to say a thing or two about Tjarda, an excellent coach and I believe one of her major strengths is to really get the best out of dancers in a short period. Part of our dance was very contemporary, a very different style than some of our dancers were used to, yet through very well thought out games and exercises she brought the attention to what each dancer needed to work on, something that worked so well that I certainly intend to apply some of this to my own teaching. (thanks, Tjardaken!)

One of our dancers really inspired me and I wanted to share his story with you. Alex Heskey (aka Dance Machine), a dancer from Uganda, left behind his life there to move to Rwanda. I was inspired by his dedication during our rehearsals and I was impressed by his work ethic. An incredible breakdancer, Alex had learnt most of his skills from youtube or from sharing with his other dancer friends as finding dance classes in Rwanda can be a challenge. After talking to him I discovered he taught breakdance to children age 6 - 16, many from poor backgrounds. I decided to come to one of his teaching sessions and participated in the class. What I observed was that many of the children didn't have shoes or had dirty clothes and they didn't even have a sound system to play music to dance to. What I also observed was that there was no sense of competition. Instead the better dancers would help out the weaker dancers with their moves, which seems like such a basic thing when I think about it but I had never seen that on this level.

The care Alex put into each and every one of those kids was beyond moving. This trip for me was not only about the project, but about discovering the meaning of Movement For Humanity. It was a joy to see the work Alex had done with the children and he really inspired me a lot during this trip.

Friday 15th July was our performance day at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival. We were opening the show with our piece. When our dancers stood there on stage in silence for the first two minutes, it filled the space with a sense of unease yet it caught the attention of the audience. Our dancers danced their heart out and I was overwhelmed with their energy that now was filling this massive amphitheatre. They were not dancing for themselves, they were dancing for humanity. And it was the most powerful thing. Dance transcends. When Ego disappears it brings the dancer in direct connection with a stronger force that I cannot explain. And when it is done right, that force is felt by each and every one of us who witnesses it.

 

 

Why do I dance? We all have our reasons, but for me, at this moment in time it is to find that truth. That connection to what is bigger than me. Because when you connect to this source, you connect to the Self of every person in your presence. And it's the only hope for humanity that we have.

Tribal Fusion and the Nexus of Sound and Movement

Today I want to delve a little deeper into the nexus of the strands of the dance medium. In Unintentional Juxtaposition in Tribal Fusion dance I looked at the nexus of the strands on a macro level. But I'd like to zoom into one aspect of this nexus. I suggest reading this article first to give you a bit more of an overview on this topic, yet it is not necessary in order to understand the content in today's post.

In Valerie Preston-Dunlop's book Dance and The Performative, there are 5 strands that we talk about when we are talking about the dance medium: sound, movement, performer, space and audience. We also talked about the relationship (or nexus) between these strands. This relationship can be juxtaposed, integrated or coexisting.

Integration of Sound and Movement

As tribal fusion dancers, the relationship between the sound and the movement strand is of course very important. In fact, often you will hear teachers say things such as 'embodying the music', 'becoming the music', 'letting the music move you',... These are all terms we are very much familiar of, I am sure. When someone says about a dancer that they have good musicality, they mean that they are embodying the music very well: the music becomes visible through the movements in their bodies.

A good example of a dancer that has good musicality is Violet Scrap. When Violet dances, she brings attention to the music in such a way that I discover layers within the music that I wasn't even aware of. Her use of movement quality and dynamics is so rich that it brings out the different textures that the music holds, and she decides which layer she wants you to listen to. The relationship between sound and movement is completely integrated.

So how does one embody music? Many people would say that this is an intuitive thing, but I like to dissect something that seems intuitive or that seems abstract into something tangible, just for the sake of it. In order to dissect, we have to somehow translate the sound strand into the movement strand. For movement, I would like to focus just on space and dynamics for the time being.

- different volumes in music can be translated in different volumes of movement, meaning that prominent, loud elements in the music reflect with big movements of the body (spatially) and with using strong movement (dynamically) - whereas sounds that are hardly noticeable can be translated as small body isolations (space) with a softer quality (dynamics)

- low sounds invite movements that are going downwards (space), when higher pitched sounds invite upwards movement. For example: we intuitively want to place a hip drop or chest drop on a DUM and a hip lift or chest lift on a TEK.

- monotone long notes (where pitch doesn't change, i.e. the bass sound bagpipes make) invite continuous movement (dynamics) as well as movement travelling in one direction (linear) or in one plane.

There are many more ways of thinking how music translate into movement, feel free to add some ideas into the comments section.

But movement doesn't always have to be a litteral translation of the soundscore. I personally like to think of the body to be an extra layer within the music, sometimes connecting to one instrument, sometimes another and sometimes creating an instrument on its own that somehow compliments with the music. It allows a bit more freedom, as I don't feel slave to the music, but it's still integrating sound and movement.

Postmodern dance ideas often happened through rebellion against the norm. In ballet for example, the movement always came after the music. The music was composed and then choreography was set to this music. Dancers felt that dance never stood on its own, that movement could not be its own art, and that movement was therefore slave to the sound strand. So dancers began to explore the idea of movement standing on its own, either by using silence or by creating movement first and bringing sound in later.

I like what Mira Betz has done in this video (it won't let me embed it here for some reason) She has connected the sound of her heartbeat to a speaker to make her audience listen to her heartbeat live, while she is dancing to the beat of her own heart. Sound and Movement strand are therefore still integrated, yet as opposed to what most tribal fusion dancers do (Sound first, Movement later) it is the movement that is controlling the sound (by slowing down her movement she slows down her heartbeat and vice versa) I think this is a very interesting concept on the relationship between sound and movement.


Juxtaposition between Sound and Movement strand

dancing in silence:

One of the first dancers ever to use the idea of dance in silence was Mary Wigman in her Witch Dance. (There is no video of this, yet there IS video of a later version of the original Witch Dance, yet this video does have a soundscore)  In its time, it was the most contemporary thing anyone had ever done. It was just not done to NOT dance to music, so it was controversial and fresh. But apart from the controversy, what I find interesting is that dancing in silence strips the dance down to just the movement. Sound can sometimes provide distraction that doesn't always add to a performance, sometimes it detracts. I would say that the relationship between sound and movement here is juxtaposed. Because the sound of silence invites stillness as opposed to movement, therefore there is a juxtaposition between the two strands.

moving to soundscore:

Another (perhaps clearer) example of juxtaposition could be when a dancer softly undulates to a song that invites dynamic, strong and large movements. Or vice versa, the song has a continuous, soft quality while the dancer manically shakes and vibrates through the space. There is a clear opposition between sound and movement in that case. Often juxtaposition invites an uneasiness with the audience, something doesn't sit quite right. I believe this can be an excellent tool. Say that I were to make a dance about i.e. being an outcast. the fact that sound and movement are juxtaposed can be related to the idea of feeling like you don't fit in. At the same time, your audience will perhaps feel alienated from you because they cannot relate to the experience, therefore mission is accomplished as the artist is truly bringing the idea of the outcast to the performance.


Coexisting relationship between sound and movement

A coexisting relationship means that there is no connection between the two strands, they just live side by side. Whereas juxtaposition is literally trying to do the opposite of what is expected, coexisting strands bare no relationship whatsoever.

The best example of a choreographer that uses coexisting strands is of course Merce Cunningham. I saw my first Cunningham piece in 2004. I hated it. I wanted to walk out of the theatre. Why? because I didn't get it. The Kinaesthetic Gap was so big for me that I wasn't getting anything out of the performance. I knew Merce was an important choreographer but I really didn't get why, looking at that performance. But the day after we had a workshop with one of the Cunningham company members and I learnt the process behind the product/performance, I understood why he was one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century. He completely broke the relationship between sound and movement by asking John Cage to write a 90 minute soundscore while he (through the use of chance - i.e. rolling a dice) works with his dancers on a 90 minute movement score. Only during the dress rehearsal would sound and movement be put together. Cunningham was not interested if it worked or didn't work, he was interested in taking away the expectation of what works and what doesn't and that was his reflection of life: nothing means anything, everything is just stuff that happens.

Having that background knowledge changed my relationship on how I watch a Cunningham performance.


But is it still Tribal Fusion?

The idea of dancing to silence or to make the sound and music strand juxtaposing or coexisting is clearly not new in contemporary dance, yet in tribal fusion it's a fairly new concept. The question is: if tribal fusion is in definition about embodying the music, will it still be tribal fusion if we were to dance in silence, or if we were to juxtapose the movement and sound strand? Perhaps not, but perhaps the exploration is still worth having. We can figure out what to call it later...

 

The Art of Cut and Paste

One thing I LOVE to do is contradicting myself. Why? Because I believe discussion about a topic can never be black and white, and because I see value in many things from both sides of the coin. Last month I wrote an article about unintentional juxtaposition in Tribal Fusion.

In case you haven't read it, here is a quick summary: in the medium of dance as a performative art, we talk about 5 strands that make up a performance: space, performer, movement, sound and audience. All of these strands influence a performance, and each strand is linked to each other. The relationship between these strands can be integrated, juxtaposed or coexistent. An example of juxtaposing two strands is having a hip hop dancer dancing to the soundscore of Swanlake.

I found that through observing different tribal fusion performances, a lot of juxtaposition takes place at times, and it is often not an intentional choice. A performer wearing Afghan jewellery while dancing to Dubstep is a perfect example of juxtaposition, and with my article I wanted to ask questions about making these choices as a performer.

But today, I am going to contradict myself slightly. But first: let's look at the term Binocular Vision:
Binocular Vision is a term used to describe the nature of performances into two elements: phenomenology and semiotics. Phenomenology in dance refers to the pre-reflective experience, for example, the 'wow' factor when watching a performer. Aesthetics belongs to this element. Semiotics refers here to meaning in a dance performance through the study of signifiers. For example: in ATS the semiotic language that happens before the turn following a Choo Choo Arch is the flick of the wrist which is non verbal communication for all dancers to turn in unison.

In Tribal Fusion, this sign of the hand gesture has been adopted into the aesthetic, but has lost its purpose somewhat as it is often used in group choreography (so cues are not necessary anymore) OR it is used in solo improvisation which again means the cue lost its purpose.

In this article I want to talk about the Art of Cut and Paste. Cut and Paste culture is a term often used in ATS and Tribal Fusion. In dance cut and paste is about taking one element of one dance style and adding it to elements of another dance style. It can be more than just that, it can be adding one idea/philosophy of one dance style and adding it to a dance movement vocabulary. For example: Indian Classical dance is about story telling. So Indian fusion dance could possibly be using the idea of Indian story telling with the movement vocabulary of contemporary dance, it doesn't necessarily mean Indian dance movement needs to be used in order to make it Indian fusion, in my opinion. I believe the idea of Cut and Paste has a lot of controversy and criticism. Many believe it to be cultural appropriation, but that's a discussion for another time.

I personally believe that Cutting and Pasting can be an Art. In terms of Aesthetics, it means that an aesthetic of one dance style is combined with the aesthetic of another style, and somehow 'it works'. This notion of 'it works' often gets criticism, because it suggests that art isn't subjective and that somehow there is some golden rule that makes one work more beautiful than another. That is certainly an interesting discussion to have, and that has been going for quite some time! But perhaps there is some truth in the universality of the Art of Cut and Paste? Take for example Carolena Nericcio and let's link it to the strands of the dance medium (explained in the previous article): Carolena is the founder of ATS, a dance style that proved it is here to stay and has sister studios all over the world. So: one can say that 'it works'. Of course, good marketing does help in this day and age, but I think for a dance form to be here to stay, a lot of research has gone into it as a system. Looking at the strands of the dance medium:

1) Performer: costume: flamenco style full circle skirt, pantaloons, Indian cholis, coin bra, turban or hairpieces,... A mix of North African, Central Asian,... jewellery none of which are necessarily contextually related to each other.
2) movement: movement inspired by: Flamenco, Indian dance, Turkish dance, Egyptian dance, ...
3) sound: Turkish 9/8, Eastern European, Greek music, Egyptian,...  and the use of finger cymbals.
4) space: Tribal Fest stage, big theatre productions, haflas, restaurants, Renaissance Fairs,...
5) Audiences: from all over the world, use of zaghareet, clapping, cheering,...

Even though many of these substrands seem completely unrelated to each other, one of the reasons why ATS is so popular is because as an aesthetic, 'it works'. In an age where we can find out about any dance in any part of the world through youtube at any time of day, it is important that Cut and Paste does and will happen. And in contradiction to what I might have hinted on in my last article, I actually really love this sort of work, as I believe it is an art and some do it very well.

Rachel Brice spoke about this in an interview in which she says that when she finds two things incredibly beautiful that to her make sense together, whether it is music, movement, costuming, ... she just HAS to put them together. And I think she is very good at that...

If we go back to the language used in the previous article on unintentional juxtaposition, perhaps what Rachel does is not so much juxtaposing two strands, in fact she is integrating two strands as she found a common element between the two: HER idea of what is beauty. So for her, it works. And I think when the intention of the artist is there, perhaps it comes across to the viewer?

We can have weeklong conversations about the notions of meaning and aesthetics in dance and in arts. I'm sure many of you have seen the images of the Daasanach tribe in Ethiopia turning garbage into beautiful jewellery... Now THAT is the Arts of Cut and Paste. We could have a long discussion about what it means for a tribe in Ethiopia to create adornment out of something that is seen as disposable by others. We could look at the aesthetic nature of repetition (in this case: use of many of the same objects) in order to create texture and patterning and therefore create something beautiful or meaningful.

I'm intrinsicly fascinated by what makes something beautiful. What makes something work. I often throw in terms such as 'Golden Ratio' to try and explain these ideas, but really they are sometimes inexplicable. I believe there is such a thing as universal beauty in arts, in which direct meaning becomes obsolete and the work can stand on its own. It's what makes you gasp when you experience it, because it moves you so deeply, without being able to articulate why.

One of my favourite Tribal Fusion choreographies is the Glide Trio performed at Tribal Fest 2013, choreographed by Rachel Brice. In this piece the dancers are wearing 1920s full length assuit, Obsidian Windchime headdresses, music by Felix Thorn (Brighton! of course...) in which xylophone (don't quote me on that) seems to be used patterned with electronic repetitive percussive sounds and movement varies from American Cabaret, Tribal Fusion and yoga. You cannot get more eclectic than that, right? You could say the performance is a mix and match of different juxtaposing strands. Yet, it works. And it works well. Because the overarching aesthetic works as a whole. What Rachel has done with the Cut and Paste of these different elements that make up her performance is creating this dreamlike quality throughout the whole piece, and each element of the strand fits that description perfectly: the music, the performers, the costuming, the make up, the movement, even the iconic Tribal Fest backdrop on the stage. Perfection.

So in contradiction to what I might have insinuated in other articles, I don't believe in a right way and a wrong way. And even if sometimes I do, that opinion shifts often. A person is never one way or another at any time, we have complex thoughts about arts, which are always evolving. Sometimes I crave creating meaning with my dance, sometimes I crave just creating something beautiful (or whatever that means for me) for the sake of it. I find that meaningful in its own way.

For me the most powerful performances that stay with me for years to come are those where there is a balance created in the binocular vision: if a performance is only focused on aesthetics and the phenomenal experience, I will most likely enjoy it at that time, but it won't stay with me. Likewise if a performance is filled with semiotic content yet no attention went to the phenomenal experience I usually switch off as there is too much information to absorb yet no moment to let the eyes feast on the aesthetic. Yet to find balance between the two? Then we have a winner...

 

Dancing in The Jungle

As we are waiting for Amy from Good Chance Theatre to pick us up near the entrance of the Calais refugee camp aka 'The Jungle', me and my friend Natascia, a dance therapist from Italy, are feeling quite on edge. Surrounded by police cars, we can feel the tension. One cop starts shouting at us as we are parked behind him. Natascia gets out to ask where we can park, and from the car I see him put his hand on his gun as she approaches him. 'oh fuck, great start' I think... He shouts at her for a bit, she returns while giving me a silent look and moves the car a bit further along. A couple of minutes later, 6 policemen appear out of the woods. They look at us very aggressively, I keep my gaze down and I hope they will walk past. They look inside our car and eventually they leave. I feel my heart racing. 2 minutes later, a smiling Amy welcomes us and walks us to the entrance of the camp. I'm quite apprehensive, given our first impression of the place, but her warm smile makes me feel more at ease.

As we walk inside the camp, everything changes. Music is playing from different pop up cafe's and shops. I recognise some Egyptian tunes and some Afghan music. I let my eyes glide over the different slogans that are written on the walls of the structures that are built near the entrance. 'everyone deserves peace' , 'welcome' , 'language school, this way' , ... A very different vibe than the one on the outskirts on the camp.

The Good Chance dome is incredible. A structure built in the centre of the Afghan area of the camp, its walls covered by artwork made by the camp's inhabitants. As we enter the main area, a circus skills workshop is taking place in which some of the guys are participating. They seem to be having a great time. Then, the Egyptian guys start playing their tunes and show off some of their dance moves to each other. It felt wonderfully familiar to hear some Shaabi blasting out of the speakers and I felt right at home.

The main dome of the Good Chance Theatre

The main dome of the Good Chance Theatre

After the workshop, the Good Chance volunteers invited us out for some food. I presumed they meant a restaurant inside Calais town, but I learnt quickly that inside 'The Jungle', there are some of the finest restaurants in town and we feasted on delicious chai tea and a lovely rice and bean dish. The portions were huge at a bargain price! With the Egyptian music playing in the background, it felt like I was in one of Cairo's backstreets, eating local street food with some of my friends. When we went back to the hotel that night, Natascia and I started preparing our workshop for the next day... Little did we know whatever class plan we made could go straight out of the window.

The next day we start our class with some of the music that we selected the day before. Natascia starts with a nice rhythmic warm up. Issue number one: the music keeps cutting out! Not so helpful during a dance workshop, but I believe there were issues with the generator, because the night before there was some heavy rain. 'Don't worry, we are prepared!' Natascia goes to the car to get our portable battery run speakers while I teach a bit of body drumming I learnt during a workshop with Stomp. The guys seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and when our music was up and running again, I taught some waving and isolations. The guys enjoyed it, but as different groups joined in while others left I noticed soon enough that we had to rethink the whole structure of the class! They were also keen to play their own tunes. With a slight fear of losing complete control of the class structure, eventually I decided to go with the flow and let them pick their own tunes.

My facial expression is priceless here...

My facial expression is priceless here...

That's when the magic started happening. As the speakers blasted some great Afghan music, some of the guys started dancing some traditional steps and teaching us some of their favourite moves. After that we formed a circle so different people get the chance to dance in the centre, each of them bringing their own flavour and culture to the group.

We started mimicking each other and as the music played, more and more people joined the circle. I believe at one point there were about 70-80 people inside the dome, everyone cheering as someone showed off a good move.

showing off their moves!

showing off their moves!

At the end of the workshop everyone stayed in the theatre dancing for hours after, playing their tunes and getting involved! It was exhilarating and yet again I was amazed by how dance just brings people together from all cultures.

I approached a Sudanese guy who was silently observing the whole happening. He was drawing in his sketchbook and I asked him what his name was and if I could see his artwork. After he showed and signed his drawing, he gave it to me to keep. He told me that he felt inspired drawing the class while we were dancing and I thought it was such a wonderful gift.

drawing my Sudanese friend made of our class

drawing my Sudanese friend made of our class

We talked for a bit and he invited me to come for some tea at his side of the camp. I don't know so much about Sudanese culture, but I know now that they make great tea! I met some of his friends, and I spoke some of my very broken Arabic with them.  Me and my new friend ended up talking while he shared his tea and I shared the snickers bar that I had bought earlier that day in one of the shops inside the camp. When I asked him how long he has been at the camp, he told me: '7 months. And 10 days.' I was quiet for a bit and after some time I asked him if I could draw him. I don't know why I asked that, I have no idea how to draw. But I found him so generous that I wanted to give him a gift in return and I couldn't come up with anything better than that. So as I started my 'masterpiece', he played some Bob Marley and we sat there for about 10 minutes screaming on top of our lungs to 'No Woman, No Cry' followed by 'One Love'. 'EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT! EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT!'

I once again was reminded of the universal power of Bob Marley's tunes. We high fived each other after our incredible singing skills and we had a good laugh about it. Then I noticed this beautiful picture on his phone. She's this Sudanese goddess in a beautiful pink scarf. 'Who is this?' I asked, and he goes quiet. 'My mother...' he says. I tell him how beautiful she looks. He kisses the screen and says 'It has been two years since I have seen her...'  'you must miss her very much...' I tell him. I can feel his loneliness at this moment in time. He tells me that she became very ill recently and he is so worried. He tells me that every time he speaks to her she is so worried about him, and he always replies to her with: 'I am doing very well, mother.' I tell him my mother passed away a long time ago and I miss her very much also. We look at each other and he says 'I am sorry for your loss', I tell him it's ok as she is with me all the time in my heart. We finish our tea and watch a perfect sunset over the Calais camp.

Sunset over Calais camp

Sunset over Calais camp

In Belgium we have this saying 'De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig...' which we say as a bit of a joke when younger people do something very different from what us older guys do. It is a saying that is usually used by people in their 70s or 80s as a judgement towards the young folks and our running joke is that it makes us sound so old by using that phrase. It literally translates as 'The Youth Of Nowadays...' . Most of the volunteers I met that are in various grassroots organisations at the camp seem quite young: late teens, early twenties maybe? Some of them have been there for months and their positive mindset and altruistic nature is  so inspiring.

The Youth Of Nowadays is doing just fine...

Keep up the amazing work, Good Chance! Until we meet again...

For more information on the Good Chance theatre, please visit their facebook page

Unintentional Juxtaposition in Tribal Fusion

In Dance And The Performative, Valerie Preston-Dunlop talks about the Nexus Of The Strands of the Dance Medium. With the strands, she refers to 5 elements that make up a dance performance - Performer, Sound, Space, Movement and Audience (this last one was added in her lecture on this topic, as it is not in the book)

Performer refers to age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, body type, costuming, body piercings, hair, make-up, tattoos, props used by the performer (such as veil, cane,...) as each of these elements will influence a performance in a different way, this influence might be subjective to the eyes of the viewer, but they influence nonetheless.

Sound refers to the music or sound score used in a performance, as this will undoubtedly also have an influence on the performance as a whole. In this strand we think of the lack of sound/music also being in this category. Or the sound of breath, shoes (for tap, flamenco), or finger cymbals.

Space refers to the space in which a performance takes place. This can be a theatre, cabaret, outdoors but also a club, a hafla or a restaurant. It also refers to any props on the stage, such as chairs, backdrops and it also refers to the lighting used on stage.

Movement refers to the movement used. We refer here to what we call in choreology as the structural model of movement, and can be divided yet again into 5 sections: space, dynamics, actions, the body and relationships (between body parts or between the different dancers on stage)

Audience: is there audience participation? This could be in the sense of cheering, clapping, zaghareeting, or in a restaurant, the dancer inviting members of the audience to dance with them.  Again this will change the performance completely, hence why it's an added strand.

We can give a very clear analysis of any performance, using these strands. We can clearly write out which tendencies a style of dance has in regards to body type, gender, age, sound, space, ... There are of course, like anything, exceptions on the rule.

Nexus of the strands of the dance medium:

Valerie continues on in her book and refers to the Nexus of these 5 strands. The nexus refers to the connection, the relationship between the strands. This relationship tends to be: coexisting, integrated or juxtaposed.

Let's take a look at these terms:

integrated relationship between the strands means that one strand goes hand in hand with another. For example: a ballet dancer that is dancing in a tutu and ballet shoes, performing the movement vocabulary of ballet, using a soundscore of Tchaikovsky and dancing in the Royal Opera House. Each strand is completely integrated.

coexisting relationship between strands means that there is no link whatsoever between two strands. A great example is Merce Cunningham methods of working where he works with John Cage on a new performance piece. The music and movement are created completely separate from one another and dancers don't get to hear the music until the dress rehearsal.

juxtaposition is where two strands are juxtaposed against each other, and therefore creating a contrasting effect. A hip hop dancer dancing flamenco in ballet shoes for example. Or a ballet dancer dancing to punk music. (Karole Armitage) It is often intended to cause discomfort for the viewer, or to express a clear message to the viewer about the relationship by showing the contrast.

Through my own research in Tribal Fusion I found that Juxtaposition is a relationship that is often present between the strands. Many people often talk about 'good fusion' and 'bad fusion'. With the use of Valerie's ideas I believe we can find a clear way of describing what makes something work and why. Juxtaposition is something that often sits funny with the audience. The question is: was it the performer's intention to create this discomfort or not? I personally am all for juxtaposition from time to time, it is a good thing to challenge the audience, in my opinion. However, I believe it is important that this is an intentional choice.

To give you an example:

- The tribal fusion movement vocabulary consists mainly of gestures (body isolations) and body designs (poses) and the head-tail axis is very vertical. Yet, the space that is used these days is often grand theatre stages. Movement often does not get adapted to the big stage, and lighting often doesn't get used in an attempt to reduce the size of the stage. Hence there is a juxtaposition between the Movement strand and the Space strand. Movement gets lost on the big stage, yet it is not the intention of the performer to create a message with this juxtaposition.

- The tribal fusion costuming often consists of Afghan Jewellery, yet music that sometimes is chosen is dubstep/electronic/hip hop with no relationship whatsoever to Afghan culture. This is a clear juxtaposition between the Performer strand and the Sound strand, yet again, this juxtaposition is unintentional. Often the decision is made on the basis that they are following a costume aesthetic from one tribal fusion performer and following a sound aesthetic from another tribal fusion performer - but from the viewer's perspective that does not know this context, this link is missing and the relationship between sound and costume doesn't make sense at all.

These are just two examples, but there's a long list of situations where unintentional juxtaposition takes place. My aim with this post is to ask questions, to think critically about the choices we make as performers, about what message we want to send to our audience members. Because sometimes we send out the wrong message, but we don't quite understand why that is.

Contextually for us a lot of the relationships we make between the strands make sense, but for someone new to Tribal Fusion especially when coming from a different dance discipline, these relationships are often unclear. This is what Valeria refers to as the Kinaesthetic Gap. It is a gap between performer and audience, where an intention of the performer gets missed by the audience because of lack of information. This often causes discomfort or confusion or an 'I don't get it' response. If that is our intention in the first place, no harm is done, but if our intention was to invite our audience into our experience, this approach will eventually create alienation towards the art form.

My aim in this art is to move away from the 'us and them' culture that seems to be happening globally. Speaking to many tribal fusion artists all over the world about how they integrate with the rest of the dance community in their area, there seems to be a big gap between 'what we do and what they do'. Which is a shame as Tribal Fusion is one of the most beautiful and inspiring dances I've ever seen. I want to find out why there is this distance between tribal fusion and other dance forms and see how we can bridge this gap.

Yesterday, as part of Tribal Remix Salvador, Bela Saffe started a discussion with the participants about many of these issues. I think it is so great that dialogue is happening about this. A good point she made is to appreciate that this is still such a young art form. Violet Scrap added that it is during a time when so much access to any art is available through youtube, social media,... so we are influenced by so many sources.

I also think that in a dance style where inclusion is such an important element (which is a beautiful thing), perhaps we have shied away from critical thought about these elements, to protect this sense of inclusion. But maybe there is room for both: if we invite constructive critical thought about Tribal Fusion as an art yet respect the quality of the inclusive nature of Tribal Fusion, I believe it can be a win-win.

I would love to hear your input, so feel free to comment.

sources:

Preston-Dunlop, V. (2014). strands of the dance medium. London: Laban. Lecture: E-stream

Preston-Dunlop, V. & Sanchez-Colberg, A. (2002) Dance and the Performative: a choreological perspective - Laban and beyond. Hampshire: Verve Publishing.

UPDATE:

There was quite a bit of discussion regarding this post on social media. I find it great when discussion is happening, and I've really enjoyed reading people's different viewpoints on the topic. I'm in no way an advocate of 'the truth', I just like to share my points of view. Not all feedback has been that helpful. For me, comments like: 'yes, I agree! I don't like Tribal Fusion for this exact reason!' or comments like: 'Urgh! I am so bored with people trying to criticise what I do!' I don't see how this is in any way creating an interesting debate on the topics touched on in this article. In fact, it creates yet again an 'us and them' culture, even within our own community.

As a reaction to one of the comments on this post (which was on facebook, not on this blog page) that was in the tone of the above comment, I posted a reply. I wanted to share it here too, because I think it has some valid points that need to be addressed also. My mind is never static, in fact, I change my opinions quite frequently when new info, new thought becomes available. I find this fascinating and I love people's views on what I write, however different of mine it may be. If we openly discuss each other's differences with an interest in what each of us has to say and why, we are really onto something here...

Here is the response about the 'I am tired of people criticising my dance' comment. I decided not to post the original comment that I am responding to, because I didn't see it as relevant to the response below. It was a comment that I have heard more than once in the tribal fusion community and therefore my response was more a general response to these kind of comments.

''If the tribal fusion community is about community and inclusion would that not mean that there can also be a place for people to have questions about the art form, respectfully, without feeling that they cannot share their views on an art form they dedicated their life to? If inclusion and community is only towards those that share the same views of 'everything is wonderful all the time', then I believe that is a big alarm bell. As it turns out, many tribal fusion artists do want to have these conversations. I believe there is a place for everyone. If discussion of the art is not someone's thing, that is of course totally ok. However that doesn't mean this discussion is not worth having. I have written this article not because of an isolated view I have, but because of talking to many artists. In the 15 years I've been in the fusion dance world these questions came up on a regular basis from within the community. People that have dedicated their lives and dance careers to tribal fusion, not outsiders that know nothing about this art. So it is not a phenomenon of outside dancers dissing this art, as it is people that care and love the art that are having questions. A phenomenon I often notice within tribal fusion is that people that have any form of criticism get a backlash of others trying to defend the current state of the art and basically silencing people's valuable thoughts and feelings. So much so that they don't dare to speak up publicly and go with the flow of 'everything is amazing' just because they are worried of being shunned from their very own community. I believe it is important to be kind and respectful to the artists in our community, yes, but we can have critique without cattiness, name calling, finger pointing, backstabbing and other unfavourable behaviour. But it goes both ways. As I think there is room for everyone.''


 

The Innovator, The Preserver, The Imitator and The Impostor - cultural appropriation in dance

I wrote this text in August 2015 during a time when there was a lot of talk about cultural appropriation on social media. I wanted to share it here again as I believe it has some valid points in regards to any style of dance:

In all forms of dance there are preservers and there are innovators. Both are what they are because of the thing they are interested in, or what they are passionate about.

The Preserver

The Preserver is passionate about keeping tradition alive. That does not mean it is their tradition, but they are keen on not diffusing things, so that traditional dances, origins, histories are not lost. For something that is as ephemeral as dance this is so incredibly important. My locking teacher Jimmy Williams is an excellent example of a preserver, having learnt straight from the source (Don Cambell) he wishes to preserve locking as an art by passing it on. His intention is to keep the legacy alive.

The Innovator

The Innovator has no real interest in preserving the tradition. The Innovator wants to find connections, and find pathways between one discipline and another and create a hybrid form. This does not mean just using one dance and combining with another, that is a basic idea of fusion. It could mean using a philosophic principle and applying that to dance. That's how contemporary dance naturally grew out of ballet. Both Innovator and Preserver are important people. People like Carolena Nericcio and Rachel Brice were excellent examples of Innovators. However, I believe that both Carolena and Rachel have now become Preservers of their own innovation. So the idea of the Innovator and the Preserver is interchangeable, depending on how the needs of the artist and their art change over time.

The Imitator and The Impostor

But then there is also the Imitator. This person is someone not (yet) interested in preserving OR innovating. This person does this dance for fun and has less time invested than the previous two. This person often eventually turns into a Preserver or an Innovator, but when they don't: they either leave on to the next thing or they continue to practice for their own benefit, without regards to the culture of where this comes from. I think only then, it could become a problem, and it depends on what this person does: do they continue to just take classes here and there or do they decide to teach/perform/... Then it becomes problematic, because then to the public they become ambassadors of this dance, so they made the transition into the Impostor: advertising themselves to be an Innovator or a Preserver when they have literally no interest in investing in either qualities of these characters. They are for their own gain: money, fame, ego. They will most likely create more Imitators that turn into Impostors.

The Innovator still needs to respect the origins in order not to be an Impostor. But does not need to know every tiny little detail: that is the job of the Preserver.

The Preserver needs to not judge the Innovator as the Innovator keeps the form evolving, ever growing, creates new interest in the form as an innovation and potentially also tradition, as a newfound interest in a dance will lead to more research in its origins.

The Preserver and Innovator need to not judge the Imitator. They probably were an Imitator at some point in their life also, unless they were born into a dance culture. The Imitator is an important factor as it reminds both Innovator and Preserver of how the dance is experienced from new eyes.

The Imitator needs to be aware of Impostors. They need to search for Innovators and Preservers if they wish to learn something new that has a sense of quality.

Cultural appropriation in dance

With regards to the term cultural appropriation: I think this term can be linked both to the Imitator and to the Impostor. But I personally don't see the problem with culturally appropriating in regards to the Imitator, however it could become a problem in future. The Imposter however is culturally appropriating in a problematic way. It is problematic as they are taking without any respect for its origins, culture, ... And purely for their own gain. Beware of Impostors but don't put Imitators in that same category. We all need to start somewhere.

‘Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. Cultural appropriation is seen by some as controversial, as the use of elements of a minority culture by a cultural majority are seen as wrongfully oppressing the minority culture or stripping it of its group identity or intellectual property rights. Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices.’
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_appropriation