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Joburg, Day 6

By February 22, 2012December 17th, 20142012 Director's Notes, 2012 Travels in Johannesburg

Time is racing by and there is so much I would like to see and do here. But our focus is on dance, dance and more dance and so far we have not been at all disappointed with the work. Our colleagues Ken Foster from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Philip Bither from the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, Vivian Philips from Seattle Theater Group and Shay Wafer from 651 ARTS in NY  have all arrived. Sadly our friend Joan Frosch must leave today.

I started the day with a much needed walk around the neighborhood. Despite the heat and humidity it felt great to take a brisk walk as we have been doing way too much sitting and my body is complaining vociferously. We dancers know when our psoas is unhappy!

We gathered for a lunch meeting at The Lucky Bean to discuss next steps with our Africa Consortium partners. The conversation among this group is always rigorous, thoughtful and full of heart. I am honored to be in the mix, to have these extraordinary opportunities to come to Africa and to collaborate with my peers to learn, discover, support and present contemporary choreographers from across the continent.

Joan Frosch, me and Philip Bither at the Lucy Bean

We continued our meeting with Neli Xaba, Boyzie Cekwana and Gregory Maqoma over at the Dance Forum the home of Dance Umbrella and Vuyani Dance Theatre. Three of the most important dance organizations in Joburg (Dance Forum, Dance Factory and Moving Into Dance) have spaces side by side  across the park from the Market Theatre in a sort of arts district. This area has been greatly enhanced over the last several years and more improvements appears to be underway.

During our meeting we had a chance to hear about the recent activities of these affiliate artists and what has be going on vis a vis support for dance. For some the National Arts Lottery has been a god sent.  Gregory’s company, for example, has received a three year span of support as has PJ Sabbagha’s Hidden Angle Collaborative. Others are not so fortunate and struggle to make and show work. As with life, politics are unavoidably present coursing through the conversation.  Artists are deeply frustrated by the lack of support, understanding and infrastructure for the field. There is no mechanism for touring, few opportunities to perform in their home countries or across the continent and few options for developing new work. Yet things are better in South Africa than in many other places on the continent and artists persevere finding ways to realize their projects. Our American artists could learn some things from these resourceful and determined art makers.

What strikes me most about the work of African contemporary artists is how deeply grounded and informed it is by harsh realities of everyday life — violence, injustice and corruption. The desire to expose, comment and create change is a profound thread coursing through much of their work. The more I learn about the lives of these individuals and the conditions in which they are working the more my respect and admiration grows and the more committed I become to their artistic voices.

This is especially true of the women for whom being an artist requires incredible grit and determination. Unlike in the states, here men dominate dance and outnumber women in great numbers.  There are scores of terrific male dancers. I have chosen for the present to focus on these fierce, charismatic female choreographers who have not had the same exposure in the US to date. Similarly, our consortium partner, MAPP International, will  launch a  US tour this fall of ‘Voices of Strength’ a two night festival of work by women featuring artists from South Africa, Momzabique, Morocco and Mali.

Back to the present… after a torrential thunderstorm (which are a nearly daily occurrences here) we made our way to Dance Factory for a shared program featuring new works by Mari-Louise Basson, Fana Tshabalala, Boyzie Cekwana and Mdu Mtshali. The evening offered some terrific dancing.  I appreciated the tone and performance commitment of Fana’s piece “Gates of Hell” but it was Boyzie’s three minute “Thinking Out Loud Experiment,” that contained the seeds of an interesting work by a mature artist.