Theater

Translation, Diaspora, and 'Sleepless in Seattle'

by Boyzie Cekwana, as told to Brendan Kiley

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South African choreographer/dancer Boyzie Cekwana and his company the Floating Outfit Project will perform Rona and Ja’nee (pieces exploring spiritual identity, colonialism, HIV, and history) at On the Boards from Feb 2 through 5.

ON INCORRECT INSTINCTS AND SELF-DOUBT

When we first did Rona in October of 1997, we were putting on the paint backstage in the dressing room and I vividly remember thinking this was a bad move. I just had a very strong feeling that this was not the right work for the time. I believed it didn’t belong at any time, and certainly not now. That we shouldn’t have put this work in the program. I didn’t communicate this with the other dancers, but I felt it very strongly.

And it’s odd—when we did it, we did not take a curtain call. Usually we decide before, do we take a curtain call at the end or not? I decided no, we were going to do the work, we were going to take the curtain down, and we were going to walk away.

We finished the work and we walked away, and the audience just kept calling us back. And we didn’t go back of course, because we were back in the dressing room. They were there for ten minutes just calling us.

ON SOUTH AFRICAN AUDIENCES

We have a very skeptical audience in South Africa, people like to be entertained, largely, and there’s a very small discerning audience that doesn’t really go for entertainment value in the work that they watch. But by and large people go for entertainment.

ON “AFRICANNESS” IN ART

A lot of people still make decisions now about what they see and how they view it based on this historical perspective. They say “that’s too black” or “that’s too white” or “too this” or “too that.” You always have to keep an ear open to what the debate is, but at the same time stay true to what you’re trying to do.

I’ve learned that these debates not specific to South Africa. I thought, at a time, that it was extreme in South Africa because of our history. I came to America about 10 years ago and I found that it’s more exacerbated here, speaking to African-Americans about this debate about slavery and race and I thought: “Oh my God! This exists, this question of the racial-historic perspective of how we view the world, how we look at each other, how we perceive people.” It was a surprise to me.

I found the same in London. A large part of the black British community feels this. And I was astounded by it. In the Diaspora, because of the distance—from a South African perspective, we live within the continent and its history is immediate and permanent. Whereas the Diaspora from the continent inspires a romanticism that we don’t possess on the continent. So I think the debate is more exacerbated outside the continent.

ON COMING TO SEATTLE

I saw a film long ago—Lost in Seattle, no? No, Sleepless in Seattle. Yes, I enjoyed the film very much so I looked it up on the map to know where Seattle is. And when I saw my tour map and saw we were going to Seattle, I was quite excited: At last! Really, really excited. It will be the west-most part of the world I’ve ever been. You can’t go any further west. It’s great!

ON NOT TRANSLATING SOUTH AFRICAN WORK FOR NON-SOUTH AFRICAN AUDIENCES

We perform our work the same—it is everywhere the same. One of the pieces we’re touring now, Ja’nee, uses African language and we’ve done it for five years and everywhere we do it is the same—we haven’t watered it down. Some things are important to keep as they are, even if they are difficult for the audience to access. The general context, the frame of the work can support that part that is not easily accessible—that’s the optimistic part of me speaking.

Boyzie Cekwana and the Floating Outfit Project will perform Ja’nee and Rona at On the Boards, 100 W Roy St, 217–9888. $24. Thurs–Sun at 8 pm.

brendan@thestranger.com

 

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