Archive for the ‘Research Phase’ Category

Choreographer and dancer Opiyo Okach is the director of Gaara Dance Projects. He works between Kenya and France and performs globally. This blog posting includes three interviews with him. Opiyo Okach speaks on his current choreographic projects “Territories in Transgression” and reflects on his previous project “Shift Centre.” In addition he speaks on the Go Down Arts Center, a thriving multidisciplinary arts complex, based in the Industrial Section of Nairobi.

Opiyo Okach- Director of Gaara Dance Projects speaks on his new research and choreography: Territories in Transgression. This video highlights his reflections on the development of this project and dance images from his new work “Border Border Express.”

Interview and dance footage with Kenyan choreographer Opiyo Okach, Artistic Director of Gaara Dance Projects. Opiyo Okach reflects on his project Shift Centre and contemporary dance.

Our meetings with Opiyo took place at the Go Down Arts Center in Nairobi, Kenya where he was an artist in residence for many years. We could see his influence with the next generation of choreographers who were organizing a festival of Solos and Duets at the time we were there; footage excerpts from Dance Forum-Nairobi Festival of Solos and Duets 2010.

Opiyo Okach also influenced the creation of this blog. The impetus for this blog project is from my ten years experience as a cross-cultural choreographer in Africa and North America and the work of African-based choreographers such as Opiyo Okach, who in 2006 said, “The danger that recurs today is that the 
centre should be situated in one place; a place that holds monopoly of truth, a place that proscribes right or wrong, a place that determines good from bad…
Shift…centre… is not just a statement on the aesthetics of space, it is also about political and social reality.”- Okach, Gaara Dance, Kenya.

 

Opiyo Okach Bio:

Maintaining his place on the international contemporary dance scene Opiyo Okach divides his time & develops work between France and Kenya. Through a long term choreographic development initiative Okach has acted as a catalyst for new directions and perspectives in dance and continues to support the emergence of a new generation of dance artists in East Africa. Having received the ‘prix du Nouveau Talent Chorégraphiques SACD 2003’ Okach was awarded a ‘Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development 2005’.

Artistic director of the first contemporary dance company in Kenya Opiyo Okach remains the principle figure of the choreographic landscape of eastern Africa. The prize at the second Rencontres Chorégraphiques Africaines 1998, for the company’s first work – Cleansing, places him amongst the first of a new generation of choreographers from Africa.

Trained at the Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre in London Opiyo Okach
integrates dance in his work on his return to Kenya in 1995 and following research on traditional ritual and performance. During the same period he encounters the choreographers
Alphonse Tiérou, Irène Tassembedo and Germaine Acogny.

In I996 Opiyo joins Faustin Linyekula and Afrah Tenambergen to form the first contemporary dance company in Kenya, La Compagnie Gàara. With its creation, ‘Cleansing’, in which the mundane gesture of everyday cleaning gravitates towards violent purification; the company wins a prize at the Rencontres Chorégraphiques Africaines 1998. For the company Cleansing opens the door to the international scene (Montpellier Danse – France, MASA – Cote d’Ivoire, St Leu Danse – Reunion…). It also marks the beginning of support by principle figures of French dance such as Régine Chopinot or Mathilde Monnier.

From 1998 the Ballet Atlantique Régine Chopinot actively supports and partners the group through a series of residencies and choreographic exchange. In 1999, she supports, in collaboration with the Centre Chorégraphique de Montpellier, the company’s new creation, ‘Rituals of the Rock’, consisting notably of the solo ‘Dilo’ for which Opiyo Okach would become known in Europe. Between 2000 & 2002 Opiyo Okach lays the bases for a long time choreographic development project in Nairobi – Générations 2001, with the support of Ballet Atlantique Régine Chopinot, Association Française d’Action Artistique, Maison Française de Nairobi, Ford Foundation and the program Unesco-Aschberg Bursary for Culture. The project combines dancer training, residency programs, research and choreographic creation.

In 2002 the choreographic creation ‘Abila’ emerges from this project, nourished by collaboration between Kenyan artists of different disciplines and exchange with two European composers and a video artist. Premiered in Nairobi and at Ballet Atlantique and Centre National de la Danse in France, the creation is presented in 11 countries in Eastern, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region (French Cultural Centres, MASA), Iles de Danse in France and several European countries (Germany, Belgium and Italy) – a first for a company from the region.

Following its discovery at Plateaux de Biennale du Val-de-Marne 2001, the solo, ‘Dilo’ is noticed at Festival Avignon 2002 at the Hivernales. Dilo is based on improvisation and instant composition work, inspired by the mythology of nomadic ethnic groups in eastern Africa. The solo tours internationally to over 17 countries.

In 2003 the society of authors and dramatic composers (SACD) awards Opiyo Okach the prix du Nouveau Talent Chorégraphique 2003. In the framework of ‘Vif du Sujet’ the SACD commissions him to create a new solo for Festival d’Avignon 2003. His collaboration with Julyen Hamilton, the renowned improviser, gives birth to the solo ‘No Man’s Gone Now’ an instant composition work. Following cancellation of Festival Avignon 2003 and Festival Paris Quartier d’Ete ‘No Man…’ premieres at Centre National de la Danse in January 2004 and has since known international success (Soirées Nomades of Fondation Quartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Plateaux de la Biennale du Val-de-Marne, Aix en Provence, Nouvelles Strasbourg Danse in France, Drei Wochen mit Pina Bausch in Düsseldorf Germany, Fabbrica Europa in Italy, Fitheb in Benin, Festival of Dhow Countries in Zanzibar, Godown Arts Centre Nairobi…).

2004 is rich in new transversal collaboration, notably with choreographer Thierry Niang, hosted in residency in Nairobi. The project results in the duo, ’Free Figures’, presented in France at Festival d’Uzes, 3 Bis Aix and Théâtres en Dracénie. It also marks the beginning of collaboration with choreographer Emmanuel Grivet for the duo, ‘Accords Perdus’ created at Regards du Cygne in Paris November 2004. ‘Accords Perdus’ is subsequently presented at Centro Cultura de Matadero (Huesca Spain), Danse Bamako Dance (Mali) and Pôle Sud (Nouvelles Strasbourg Danse)…

Opiyo’s recent work, ‘shift…centre’, (creation 2005-09) touching on relationships of identity, space and perception is in the form an evolutive process in which each series of performances is specifically created. ‘shift…centre…’ premiered in Nairobi and has been presented in France – Francophonies de Limoges, Danse L’Afrique Danse Paris, Platform Danse Bastia, Theater der Welt – Germany and toured in Southern Africa and Brazil.

In 2007 Opiyo choreographed ‘Take it Away’ for Andreya Ouamba with the SACD/Festival
Avignon program ‘Sujet à Vif’

Opiyo is currently developing the choreographic project ‘Territories in Transgression’. The first work of the project ‘Border Border Express’ – a solo in collaboration with electro acoustic musician, Alejandro Olarte, and scenographer, J C Lanquetin – premiered at the Rencontres Internationales de Seine Saint Denis in May 2009. ‘Body Evidence’ – a solo from the project is in development. A work process of ‘Body Evidence’ was presented during residency at Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, San Francisco in May 2011. The quatuor ‘We don’t care what flag you’re waving’ – is also in development.

In September 2012 ‘The house that never walked’ a piece for 9 dancers from Africa and Europe produced by Steptext Dance Project premiered at Schwankhalle in Bremen, Germany.

Today Opiyo Okach is also artistic director of Gaara Dance Foundation – created in 2002 to consolidate the choreographic activity initiated in Kenya. Its activities include choreographic research, artist residency, choreographic exchange, support for creation and diffusion of work. Regional and pan African exchange such as the Dance Encounters (East African Dance Encounters 2003, Retracing Connections 2004, ‘Encoding identities’) initiated in 2003 are part of its mission. From 2011 Okach initiated a new dance development program – Performance Lab Nairobi – a collaborative process for contemporary creation. The third edition of the program involving 20 dancers/choreographers from different African countries – Chrysalides – is organinsed in collaboration with CDC La Termitiére, Ouagadougou and Ecole des Sables, Toubaba Dialaw.


Danse l’Afrique Danse in Bamako, Mali 2010

Danse l’Afrique Danse is a platform for African contemporary choreographers- emerging and established. It is a meeting place for choreographers, dancers, presenters, programmers, cultural workers, researchers, and local contemporary dance audiences. It is a competition and launching platform for “new” choreographers where three winners have a pre-programmed tour in fifteen African countries and a European tour.

The 2010 Danse l’Afrique Danse was full of rich performances and exchange. There were over fifty performances- both for concert stage and site-specific works in the Bamako streets. The work ranged from highly physical dance theatre to contemplative installation works; all were engrained with social, personal, and political commentary and messages- at times abstract, at times very specific.

There were panels that discussed the now and future of African contemporary dance as well as feedback sessions for the younger choreographers presenting work. In the evenings we gathered at a local Bamako gathering spot, Rue Princesse to talk, share food, listen to live Malian music, and witness installation projects. The days began at 10am and ended at 4am.

As an America-based choreographer who has attended numerous festivals on the continent, I noticed a larger American, European, and African programming presence than previous years. There is a continued growing interest for contemporary art in Africa. Financing for the Festival came from the French government (Cultures France), The Mali Ministry of Culture, PUMA, and several other organizations. The judging panel consisted of three Africans and four Europeans. There was dialogue amongst the artists about the pros and cons of a contemporary dance competition and the European financing of an African dance competition.

This blog is a continuation of the trace of the powerful and important contemporary dance created by choreographers and dancers from the African continent. We have posted here short video excerpts “traces” that highlight excerpts of work from the Festival.

Respectfully submitted by: Esther Baker-Tarpaga

Part of the Shifting Centers experience is focused on contemporary African dance; yet, in conjunction with this objective, the project is also focused on issues of accessibility, technology, and overall resources available to choreographers and artists in Senegal, Mali, Kenya, and Morocco. Here is a short clip that addresses some of the cultural context we have experienced in Dakar, Senegal.

Photography and post by Kristen Jeppsen Groves

Trace from Dakar: Dance and Technology in and outside of Africa recently finished their work with D-Clic Danse, a dance and technology workshop directed by Andreya Ouamba. Check out our recent video highlighting activities explored in the workshop.

 

Dakar, Senegal:

Video from Ateliers Aex Corps in Dakar, Senegal. This video highlights interviews with choreographers and workshop director Andreya Ouamba in addition to footage with dancer participants in the workshop. This is the fourth edition of Ateliers Aex Corps.

Coming soon is a video of dancers interviews/footage and what types of Internet communication many of the dancers are using.

Written Quote from Andreya Ouamba Atelier Aex Corps Goals:

“Atelier Aex Corps is a project which aims at strengthening the training of the dancer by inviting him to open his mind at new ways of dance expressions. This initiative, which is not new for certain artistic circles in Senegal (Toubab dialaw with l’Ecole des sables), is on the other hand new for the dance community of the city of Dakar. Artists who want to experiment, dancers who have questions such as: understanding how to move their body for a better use, and how to place their body into the space or how their moves and use of the space could be understood…

This project is a journey which is going to take place over three years. A group of 10 dancers is selected to follow each workshop. The duration of the program as well as the restricted numbers of participants will allow a good follow up of the evolution of the dancers. The previous dancers will be first and foremost invited to participate to the following sessions. At the end of every session, the participants are encouraged
to present a personal project. This project can be the beginning of a choreographic construction, a works in progress or an accomplished piece.”

Photo by Steven Gunter

Madagascar

Think-Tank #1: ACCAD lab, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA

June 21, 2010

Esther Baker-Tarpaga held a face-to-face think-tank session with researchers and artists, Olivier Tarpaga, Norah Zuniga-Shaw, Vita Berezina-Blackburn, Matt Lewis, and Nicole Bauguss about the Shifting Center Project. From the hour and a half session the group discussed and brainstormed ideas about the following issues:

  • The Physicality of the Communication
  • Access: Who, Where, When, and How?
  • The Event
  • Points of Departure

The Physicality of the Communication: getting to the nuts and bolts.

The think-tank opened with the very practical question of how to manage technical issues and  challenges of digital communication between the two countries.  The group encouraged the research team to use ongoing networks that link Africa to the US.  Common elements used in Africa include: Skype, blog, email, video, web page, phone text, and social networks like Facebook.  Texting and videos via cell phones are also very popular and accessible.  Another easy way to share information is through screen-capture software; it is free and easily records digital information from desktops. The group also addressed issues of translation from English to French as well as how best to record a trace from each community.

Yet, even with these tools questions arose as to how to make the exchange of information tangible?  What are the physical elements that can be used to create dance?  Visuals, physical text, installations, topography, video, and sound were a few elements that offer fodder for movement creation.  As information is gathered and shared deeper issues about the definitions of network and technology emerged.  What is the current conceptual territory in regards to centers of information and networks?  Should those be interrupted, if so, how?  Ultimately, the group agreed Shifting Center project is about emergent taxonomies, sharing information, and discovering what is the significance of technology as a conceptual base for dance creation; The conceptual space of shifting centers.

Access: Who, When, Where, and How?

The think-tank discussed various points about access, ways of exchanging information, and new ways of using current networks.  A few ideas they discussed include:

  • Twitter – encouraging discussion and dialogue about dance in Africa

◦      Enable Facebook

◦      Use from phones

◦      Use tweets as visual installation or use in the conference

  • Wikified blog – a blog manager organizes, edits, and shapes an open access blog
  • Live Access through webcast: U Stream
  • Hashtag

One of the first questions to address is the available and type of internet access.  In Senegal and Burkina Faso internet cafes are the most common, wireless in common in most countries and Facebook is already in use, yet accessibility is still limited.  Once of the big challenges will be finding locations with strong internet connections that will allow for collaborative dialogue. At each location, universities with the fastest internet connections, such as I2, should be contacted as well as American Cultural Centers, French Cultural Centers, Goethe, US Embassy connections, etc.  Beyond internet, other technologies such as cables from computers to projectors as well as video conferencing rooms will be valuable tools during the project.

The combination of digital tools will allow a live web-stream as a performance medium.  The performer and audience may not be in the same location.  Discussion and dialogue about the performance may occur from locations beyond countries in Africa and Columbus, incorporating a more global community.

The Event

The conversation turned to the actual production itself.  With the available technological resources, what can be created?  The BakerTarpaga Dance Project mission is to address issues of boundaries.  The Shifting Center project hopes to highlight the economic and border challenges that prevent people from connecting to the larger world around them.  Students and communities need to access other areas of education and culture as well as have opportunities to meet and exchange when travel is not an option.  The group brainstormed ideas of how to overcoming borders:

  • Create and Curate – four students on OSU blog to four artists in Morocco or various locations. Through live feed, blogging, and texting students at OSU converse with African artists and may be given assignments and projects to fulfill.  Students may delegate the mode of communication, one on Facebook, one blogging, and another tweeting and determine the best form for collaborative research.
  • Create a score, model, or trial with specific conditions.  Collaborators in Africa and Ohio will create work based on trials.  Create responses and use responses as continual fodder for artistic creation.
  • Give specific instructions and actions via the web: NZ Shaw “turn six times”
  • Create video project for DTW’s tweet project
  • A week-long workshop dedicated to collaborative creation and learning via the web
  • Take or offer a dance class via the web
  • Audience exchange with choreographer’s from countries in Africa
  • Live-feed exchanges

◦      issues around time zones

◦      video image can be partial and disappointing

◦      what other elements besides a moving body can be live-streamed?

As ideas developed the next question arose: How do we make it happen?  The group agreed there should be some type of live element involved in the process or product.  The project should also have a traveling took kit: small projector, camera, tri-pod, and other recording tools to capture and collect various traces of the project.  The projector may offer tactile nature of dance and performance and allow crowds to interact not just with images but with sounds as well.

Digital sharing brought up many questions about how environment relates to meaning in regards to dance.  What is a meaningful communication related to dance?  What does dance feel like when you’re in Dakar, or Ohio, or Senegal? What is relevant to the choreographers? What are the dance ideas that work well with bodies from various locations? What elements are limited to the locale, i.e. air, humidity?  What is dance conversation in Morocco versus Mali?  What are the key words used for dance in each area? How will altered definitions change the meaning in various dance cultures?  Any ideas shared should center around the goal of shifting ideas, getting ideas to move between stationary locations.

Points of Departure

Near the end of the think-tank session the group discussed examples of other projects that have created works based on similar processes.  Locative Media Links connects participants via phone computer and guides movement scores, somewhat like a flash mob, but with specific goals to accomplish during the score.  This might be a launching point for a movement score that uses text messaging.  The score may be exploring certain public spaces, walking around on the street, or it could be narrative.

Another company Blast Theory from Rotterdam, UK uses recordings from participants’ daily experiences.  For example, a recorded description of a bike ride, or another may include  a short story from a person’s life.  The prompts are very well crafted and produce interesting material.  We may glean this idea and consider theatrically crafted prompts that may generate interesting movement for the masses.

Other ideas generated around this one concept: make playful use of what is and what people have.

  • Make use of GPS location; meet someone at this coordinate, speak with someone who is leading, using text messages.
  • Camera Phones; use photos
  • Send a text message to a number that everyone can access or have entrance to a system
  • Encourage comments/responses on blog posts; think of structures that encourage participation online.

As the conversation continued, think-tankers encouraged us to integrate the flow of ideas and to find a common language and interest.  As forms of communication are explored they encouraged us to consider what forms feel the most satisfying and meaningful.  In process-based research it is often only the product that is seen; how can the process be more transparent?  They encouraged us to think how the process can connect with audiences more than just through the final performance or product.

As with any research it is difficult to anticipate outcomes, and particularly with the ephemerality of dance, this becomes extremely challenging.  Yet, the process should offer something, it should add to the critical dialogue and begin the process of shifting centers of common products in dance to innovative and creative processes.

The conversation shifted to building networks and collaborations that can build conditions to address some of these issues. Norah will be incorporating her improv class with a group of dancers in Senegal; they may send movement scores to each other, use sound scores from various locations, or improv based on various conditions that are unique to the location.  Esther will continue to gather visuals, objects, and other collection items while in Africa: photos and posts will be updated every other day.  The research team in Africa will also be gathering opinions from artists:  What integrative projects are interesting or needed?  Where is dance relevant and what are audience’s responses?

Written by: Kristen Jeppsen Groves, Media Manager

In our think tank today—opening the portal: A brainstorming session….learning from others

1. Models for cross tech exchange

2. Using social media

3. Low tech, low budget exchange

4. Alternative ways of viewing dance, dance via skype,

5. Trials and errors

6. Installation/stage/movement for camera/text- ways of viewing in cyber platform

BT Dance Project at Ford Amphitheatre

Photo by Jorge Vismara