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.

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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.