The Architecture of Movement
In the challenging world of contemporary dance, particularly in terms of what is called ‘conceptual art’ where execution of the work is regarded as subsidiary to the idea or concept behind it and in which even the term 'conceptual art' must rely on words rather than art to define itself to the viewer, traditions become meaningless and the very nature of art, particularly the power of the visual and the motional, becomes secondary.
History however tells us something different. When our ancestors performed their rituals, dancing around a fire till dawn, they used rocks and burnt sticks to draw on cave walls what they were seeing while in the trance; memory, intuition and consensus was the driving force. They relied on driving the body to an extent of reaching that point of total submission to the unknown.
When I created Exit/Exist—a contemporary dance work that looks at the history of my ancestor, Chief Jongusobomvu Maqoma, a Xhosa warrior who was born in 1798 and died in 1873 under mysterious circumstances in isolation, held as a political prisoner in Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa—I became aware of the danger of being trapped within the parameters of ‘conceptual art’.
In my research of the work, I realized that both oral and written history were not enough for me to be able to create a true reflection of my interest in the subject of displacement and colonial disposition. I needed more than a history page to walk his path and rediscover part of my own story in his, the story that I carry within myself. That needed vigorous training in Xhosa tradition, culture and customs, to embody them fully. After days and nights of movement practice in traditional Xhosa dances, dancing in the mountains of Eastern Cape, what emerged was the same concept, only different. I was living the story, no longer telling it but reliving the memory through the visual form, by my body. A sense of ownership emerged; the foundation was stronger to start building the walls for the architecture to come to life.
I realized when I started performing the work that the body can only reveal what it has learned and new information always triggers what lies underneath, the body archive. In creating Exit/Exist, I realized escaping the urban city life and stepping in the redness of the earth of Eastern Cape, smelling the ocean and the fresh breeze of the mountains, instantly separated the theory of the subject from the practice of it. What is interesting is when all the information and ideas start to collaborate and, without making concessions, manage to reach an agreement, creating a new language. A formidable work emerged. Every performance creates new transitional, entry and exit points. Every performance becomes a memory and when the lights go off and the curtain falls, a new history is written.