Wednesday night at UW, a formidable crew of dancers and choreographers from all across Africa—all women—sat down on a panel to describe what they make and how it's received by audiences in all kinds of places including Botswana, Tunisia, Paris, Chicago, and, last week, New York (reviews here and here).
Has any other dance tour in history had this global a reach?
They are a tour called Voices of Strength. They represent Mali, Mozambique, Morocco, South Africa, Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti; they also represent a rising tide of contemporary dancemaking in Africa (PDF to read more about it).
This is their first time in the United States, and they're in Seattle at the Moore tonight and Saturday, with different pieces presented each night (tickets; credit goes largely to local powerhouse Vivian Phillips on behalf of STG for getting them here).
They talked about European critics deriding them for not being formal enough, dancey enough, balletic enough. But these women don't care. One after the next made her case for a performance style that mixes dance, theater, and politics.
They face an uphill battle in perception on many levels. One is reflected in the question Phillips was asked before she came to the panel discussion on Wednesday. Someone asked her, out of the blue, "Are the performances sexually explicit?" Phillips didn't know what to say. "You mean because they're black women from Africa?" she wondered. Or more than wondered.
Two sentiments stuck with me from the panel. One, when Bouchra Ouizguen of Morocco declared, "I don't need to take modern to traditional or traditional to modern. We are all of this in our bodies."
Second, when Kettly Noël from Mali/Haiti described being a child and watching a beautiful woman move, knowing she wanted to be like her. "She had beautiful underwear!" she blurted. As a baby, she said, the only thing that would calm her so her mother could work was when her brother made music on his body.
Noël is in this video. She's not the dancer with the white doll who appears first. That's South African Nelisiwe Xaba. They created Correspondances, and perform it tonight at the Moore. See you there.