Dance, Making It Visual

UCT Student vs UCT Dancer

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Dancer: Anderson Carvalho

Did you know that UCT has a Dance School? 

You have probably heard of students studying dance at the University of Cape Town (UCT) or perhaps you might have met a student. Dance has evolved so much and personally as a UCT School of Dance student, it’s time to have a little more insight about what the dancers really do or should I say study.

All of a sudden dance is always about doing the splits and turning multiple times, performing the unnatural human things everyday, like shaping themselves into distorted positions, jumping extremely high and stretching beyond the natural limits. Let me inform you that these ideologies around what dance is all about and what becoming a dancer requires needs to be clarified. Firstly the UCT School of Dance is not a platform where dancers stretch everyday, take a couple physical dance classes and leave. It is a space where the dance students equip themselves to either become a dance performer, teacher or researcher. Before I provide you in detail with what these three streams offer the main question is, what is the meaning of studying dance to you? Your knowledge about dance is only about the two factors that dance is physically demanding and mentally draining, however UCT is an academic institution and being part of the University, the School of Dance too is very academic.

When you meet a dancer, don’t just ask about how sore this/her feet are? It’s not just about physicality and training to do vast back bends and split jumps. Dance is political, in all aspects. Ask about the upcoming performances. Many choreographers that make works today use their art as a mechanism to educate, embodying political issues ranging from racism, sexism, femininity, culture identity, ones personal struggles, violence, everyday life experiences and more.

Yes dance is extremely strenuous, the ability and demands are high, not to mention our competition, don’t even go there…Balancing strength and flexibility is a physical journey for every dancer, gymnast, sportsman or any physical career for that matter. The body is a temple and as a dancer the journey is about finding their limits, working with their weaknesses and developing an identity as an artist, for myself as a white South African female. Identity is huge and again in dance it’s a journey of self -discovery. Basically what a students university is all about, not just about the studies, but about finding yourself.

What is like being a South African dance student at the University of Cape Town? And what does it even mean to study dance?

The theory consists of many courses:

African Dance History:  which deals with the history of Africa and how the history has affected South African dance today.

Western Dance History: The history of the West, the pioneers in American and German Modern Dance.

Choreography: Choreographers dance works that made history compared to the choreographers of today. Writing reviews on their works, understanding the techniques and choreographic devices of choreographing as well as site specific dance works.

Performance Studies: graphic design, lighting, business studies, sound and stage production.

Musicology: History and evolution of music in the West and in Africa. This includes notation and instrumentation.

Anatomy: anatomical structure of the body.

Dance Teachers Method: child development, the cognitive and physical development of a child, which is very important when teaching a child dancing (their bodies are so pliable). Learning the codified dance technique as well as teaching creative dance, which deals with the multiple intelligences of Gardeners Theory.

Next time you approach a dance student, ask when their next show is, ask about the gender discourses, homosexuality. It’s post modernism, not the baroque period people, please expand your knowledge. We are students just like a normal acedemic student just with dance in front of it…

Visit the University of Cape Town School of Dance website for more information.

Dance, Making It Visual

Site-Specific Performances vs Concert Theatre Performances.

Now you are probably thinking to yourself that this is self explanatory, just a bunch of people or one person dancing randomly in a public space. Well you are spot on. That is exactly what it is, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Yes, it does relate to what you might know as flash mobs and street dancing. Interestingly so, it is a lot more complex than that.

Let me guide you through it slowly. It will be easy to understand site-specific dance works if have you seen the dance movie Stomp the Yard or Honey. If not perhaps you are a fan of the Step Up movies, where the best dancers of all time unexpectedly perform in many different sites. From art museums, shopping malls, and restaurants, to sandy beaches, pavements and crowded car parks.

Step Up Revolution
(Photo credit: Summit Entertainment) Step Up Revolution dancers performing on the streets.

This idea of performing in any site is not classified as a site-specific dance work. I know, mind-boggling isn’t it? A site-specific dance work mostly relates to the choreographic approach to the site, meaning the dancers’ experience and engagement with the specific site. So, the complexity lies within the approach, how a dancer engages with the space and that it not just about performing outside of a studio.

So, what is site-specific dance work?

Site-specific dance works were experiments of the 1960s Avant guard movement. They were explored by post modernist choreographers such as Trisha Brown, whose choreographic approach was refusing to choreograph in a studio. She rebelled against all limitations, restrictions and boundaries imposed by a traditional auditorium. In an auditorium the dancers perform on a traditional stage, enter and disappear into wings and dance under the limelight to Beethoven’s classics or Beyonce’s latest hits.

The whole idea is for the dancer to not be objectified by the audience; to purposefully serve as an object of entertainment seen from one angle. To break the convention where the audience watches and the performer performs. Initially Trisha Brown wanted the audience to engage with the performer in many different ways and to view the dance from many angles.

As an audience member, you have a certain way of engaging with the dancer. You’re either entertained, challenged or bored out of your socks. Additionally, the relationship with the performer becomes a conversation, so you either decide to respond or completely ignore the performer. If you have not seen a traditional concert theatre dance take a trip to the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town and watch Cape Town City Ballet perform the good old Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or Swan Lake. If not ballet maybe a Contemporary African dance show or Contemporary dance work at the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch. The only way to really grasp the difference between a concert dance and site-specific dance is to physically be in the theatre and experience it.

Site works are choreographed in the site itself, meaning the choreographer does not create the dance in a studio and then perform it in the site, which is exactly what the Step Up movies and flash mobs do. The choreographer in a site would engage and respond to his/her surroundings. The dancer channels what the environment offers at the specific time that the choreographer enters the space. The idea is that he/she plays with their senses; what the dancer sees, smells, touches and hears. By applying these elements, the choreographer automatically behaves in a certain way, evoking an emotion and responding to the space.

Another great description is by The California Institution of Arts, which describes site-specific work as a response to space:

Site-specific dance/performance is work created in response to a particular place or site, inspired by its architecture or design, its history, and/or its current use”. 

Due to the crazy post-modernist world we live in today, site-specific dance work may not be as ‘dancy’ as you want it to be. High legs, split jumps, backflips, 100 turns… These may be present, but it is more about the site than the dancer’s flexible legs.

So, if you haven’t seen a site-specific dance work, having expectations is going to ruin your first experience. The footage of site dances might be very confusing if you are not physically in the space when it is being performed. Watching a video of it online might just be one of those strange, supposedly hilarious Facebook videos you come across. Something you would watch during your peak procrastination time. I mean you’ll find it interesting for a second, completely puzzling half way through, then lean towards “What the hell am I watching?” Well, since it caught your attention you either love wasting time watching the dance video or admire the fact it makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever.

Alan Parker, a professional choreographer who has had many site-specific experience more so choreographed site-specific works will provide insight about the difference between the two.

He is a very well known figure in the South African dance industry who has experience in many different fields of dance. Ranging from experience as a dance researcher, performer, contemporary dance teacher, South African choreographer, lecturer at the Rhodes University Drama Department and a part time lecturer at the UCT School of Dance.

Alan also trained in creative movement, contemporary dance, physical theatre, contact improvisation and Ashtanga yoga. He also specialized in physical theatre, choreography and mastered in Drama at Rhodes University.

Since 2007, he has performed, choreographed and taught for the Grahamstown’s First Physical Theatre Company, but has also choreographed various works for the company and for all of the major national Arts Festivals.

Not only is he acknowledged as the Assistant Artistic Director, but appeared in many First Physical productions. Alan is currently lecturing undergraduates and postgraduates in contemporary dance, physical theatre and choreography.

An interview with Alan Parker on the 30 May will provide insight about site specific dance works and all what there is to know about choreographing in a site.

For more insight about Site Specific dance works, three 3rd year UCT School of dance students will explain in detail, their first site-specific dance experience.

Dance, Making It Visual

UCT School of Dance on FIRE!!!

IS THIS SOME SORT OF ‘AFRIKA BURN’ PRANK OR WHAT? 

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Smoke creeping up the wall (the recycle bins are removed).
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Part of the roof that was destroyed. (Unfortunately due to safety reasons, no images were captured inside the building).

The University of Cape Town School of Dance admin building caught a flame during the early hours of yesterday morning. Around 12-1am the fire was spotted by a campus security guard who immediately notified the fire brigade. As of today the police are still investigating the cause.

The Dean of the Dance School, Gerard Samuel, arrived immediately at the site around 2am after being notified by the campus security. Samuel instantly informed the staff members of the Collage of Music (the dance schools neighbour), Upper Campus Humanities head office and the UCT School of Dance staff members.

Soon after, in the afternoon a meeting in the canteen was held at the school of dance, hosted at 1pm by Samuel in collaboration with the dance schools SRC members (Bronwyn Probert, Talia Lewis and Carla Shultz) to notify the dance students about the incident and clarify what actually happened.

During the meeting the students including the Dean himself were quite emotional…His speech was moving, whilst speaking he stopped and took a deep breath, swallowing his tears from a flashback similar to the incident. This was enough to touch every member in the canteen. The students were fearful are concerned about their safety at the dance school, some were even crying, others just suffering silently. The majority of the students were angry and frustrated about the whole incident, hoping to just scrape through this and carry on with classes. Unfortunately the severity of the event needs a lot more attention than just a meeting.

After this emotional meeting and the affect it had on the staff, more so the students, some teachers cancelled their classes, because no one was in the right headspace to continue the day.

Evidently from an investigation, the fire started from the outside of the admin building, supposedly originating from the plastic recycled bins. The flames from the plastic bags crawled up the wall of the admin building, spreading fast across the security office roof, and damaging the wood. Being the old-fashioned building that it is, it burnt pretty quickly. Thankfully no bodies were hurt or harmed.

This horrific event affected more so disturbed many students and the staff members of the School of Dance. Some conjured up past memories of trauma, loss and for myself emotions of the past protests that took place last year on campus. Seeing such a beautiful university imbued with history slowly be destroyed is depressing. Thankfully the dance schools dearest neighbour, the Collage of Music have opened up their building for Gerard Samuel and the secretary to settle until the matter is resolved, and the building is repaired. With the support of Humanities and the insurance claim, I am sure the incident will be well taken care of.

After the emotional meeting, this school (which most of the dance students refer to as their second home) filled with young ambitious dancers where their passion is being nurtured to become a profession seemed to be slowly fading away with the building itself…

Worst of all the idea of not knowing who caused the fire is agonizing… As a third year dance student privileged to be part of an 80-year-old dance school, which in 1934 was originally known as the University School of Ballet, slowly turn to ash kind of like a valley of ashes.  Thankfully the building does not stop the dance spirit to keep dancing, working hard and supporting one another in love.

Furthermore this seems like a form of protest action. Why would someone single out the dance school? I’m aware that burning art in this manner is for Afrika Burn. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this something is very fishy…

Before this terrible event, there are suspicions that the dance school is some sort of target… About a week ago Maxwell Xolawe Rani’s (the African Dance Teacher and African course convenour) car was stolen during the day. Some say it was an inside job. It was out of the blue that the car was stolen. The car slowly and casually drove off from the School of Dance parking bay, right under our very noses. Two days later it was found in Grassy Park…How hectic? His car was returned in the same state it was stolen. What scares me is we supposedly just go back and dance in peace?

Before we assume, as Vice Chair on the SRC in the University School of Dance, the meeting being discussed tomorrow hopefully will come up with better safety solutions.

Dance, Making It Visual, Uncategorized

Dance is POLITICAL

“Dance needs bodies and every body has a political history” – Talia Lewis

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Dancer: Nuske George    Photography: Nardus Engelbrecht

What do I mean by political?

We understand that politics relates to the public affairs or government of a country. Politics in this post is seen as an act of power. The questions revolved around this power is who defines what is politically correct? Who controls what is ethically and aesthetically correct? In this case, in DANCE.

Dance is extremely complex to define, because it is constantly evolving like a culture. What is meant by this is that culture is a manmade construction, it is not one group of people, but a fusion of many ethnicities and communities. This defines dance today, it is a fusion of dance styles, a community of people from different ethnicities and training backgrounds. In addition to the dance training, the performance world and dance criticism within South Africa, one of the main reasons for the complexity is due to the influence of politics, culture, colonialism and migration. These aspects have hugely impacted the dance world in South Africa more so the perception of South Africa today.

By unpacking the issues within dance such as the body stigmas, which looks at the ideal body of a dancer, the gender discourses and more importantly race. These cultural markers effect how the audience (you) view dance works, which formally creates a perspective of what is ethical and aesthetically pleasing on stage.

By briefly looking into the history of dance in South Africa, Classical Ballet was dominant and seen as a ‘high art’ (a form of art that originates from the West that is strictly for ‘white’ bodies). It was the main form of dance. This is where colonialism took place. The influence of the West, their norms, traditions, dance forms and authenticity has opened many opportunities for South Africa, however created many disadvantages. The confusion in dance lies between the fusion of many dance styles, because politically with colonialism there is this constant search for the truth…What is authentically African? An identity crisis, which still prevails today, especially when it deals with African Dance…

Many dance companies, dance researches and choreographers strive for equality and beg to understand the reason for the restrictions, constraints and boundaries set politically in the dance world in South Africa. Politically this dates back to the Apartheid era and due to historical events as such, dance in South Africa continuously faces political and aesthetical challenges for example why is a white body on a professional stage performing a traditional African dance seen as politically incorrect?

Identity is a huge issue; we all face an identity crisis due to how society shapes our mind and how the media portrays perfection. As a South African audience member and performer we need to rid this notion of what dance is and what it should look like, the history in art has already broken traditions, overstepped boundaries and created a space for us to explore, experiment and express today. One must learn from the past and cease to live in it. Learn to tolerate, adapt and respect the evolving world we live in today.

In South Africa the fact that we are a multicultural audience the question an audience member (you) should ask is who is performing? Where is the performance performed? And what is being performed? For example the dancing that took place during the Apartheid era. The laws of apartheid, the Group Areas Act affected the performance space for dancers. The ‘Blacks’, Indians and Coloureds were not allowed to perform on professional platforms such as Artscape and the Baxter Theatre. They were forbidden due to their race, because white bodies were more privileged…How racist !

Consequently dance is not just a form of entertainment. The body is seen as a political tool, which is used as a powerful mechanism to educate, to change the perception and future of South Africa.

Click here to read about dance being political – It blew my mind !

Making It Visual, National Protest, South African Protests

The Impact of 21st Century Visual Dissent…

The desperate voice of dissent in the 21st century still reverts to the visual audience for its podium of expression. But just how effective or extreme is this visual form of dissent.

ZUMA Must GO
Brenton Geach / Gallo Images

South Africa continues to voice and embody their desperation for a change in government. The juxtapose conduct of the two recent protests in South Africa. One, a peaceful non- violent nationwide protest, which expresses decent over Zuma’s sacking of finance minister Pravin Gordhan in April 2017. This resulted in the country being downgraded to junk status. The other protest, violent fees must fall protests (#FeesMustFall) at the end of the 2016 academic year in South Africa, lead to the postponing of final examinations and the graduation to 2017.

Furthermore The “Fees must Fall” protest was conducted predominantly on the campuses throughout the country, whereas The Zuma must Go protesters saw 10000 people on the streets and roads of Cape Town. A Contemporary dance group Darkroom alongside the banner waving protestors protesting outside the houses of parliament, voiced their opinion by staging a protest dance in the town square. Thankfully the entire Zuma must GO protest went off without any damage to property, vandalism or injury to life.

Unlike the Zuma must Go protest the student “fees must fall” protests was by contrast a “war zone” with one student killed in Pretoria when a car was driven into the crowd. The riot police came under attack by groups of youths throwing stones and in one incident live shots were fired. The police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the violent stone-throwing students. The Vice chancellor of UCT, Max Price was physically accosted twice by students when attempting to address them. Moreover lectures were violently disrupted and students were violently accosted and removed from lectures.

Consequently the rationale behind some of the student demands such as  “colonial science” is to be removed from the academic institutions and replaced with “African science” bordered on the bizarre. While both groups grievances seek a genuine “change”, the disparity of methods within the “Fees must fall” protesters and those who protested for the Zuma must GO campaign. This clearly highlights the emerging belligerent mind set and the inflexibility of current power. Certainly reason to be concerned of just how “VISUAL” the protest must become before we descend down the path to join our sister nations old trodden road to decolonisation.  

For more visuals watch the Cape Town protesters and the Fees Must Fall in action.