Fall 2021 In Dance

myself only in English and was exposed to western concert dance forms for ten years, I grew a heightened appreciation for a culture that was not mine. In what was once a desperate attempt to sound as proper as possible and escape the bur- den of being an uneducated Black, so as to gain access to opportunities that people who looked like me couldn’t, I failed to hold on to my own home languages in support of another’s civilization. In acknowledging this conditioning and its effect on how I express myself, I consider my learned languages and my lost languages in my most recent dance film, Sihamba Sizibhala (loosely translated from isiZulu as “we write ourselves as we go/move” ). THE NEGOTIATIONS A s I struggle to recon- cile my learned lan- guages (English and Modern dance) and my lost languages (isi- Zulu, seTswana, and personal move- ment style), I sometimes sound/look foolish and inarticulate when I resort to my lost languages, and affected in my learned languages. I’ve been called “coconut” or a “clever Black” as I try to balance on an ever sharp knife edge. This teetering became one of the main narrative threads of the choreography for my film. I used improvisational techniques to create and then dismember dance phrases that use steps evident in mod- ern and contemporary dance, such as pliés, lunges, and grand battement. The phrases repeat and grow as the film progresses, colliding with phys- ical theatre elements, gestural lan- guage, and pedestrian movement. The phrases are captured from different angles and at varying speeds. The sec- tions are overlapped to create concur- rent lines of narrative that layer jour- ney and disruption. My editing process parallels the choreographic process. Rather than

in G Minor BWV 1001” (performed by Refiloe Olifant, a violinist from the Free State, close to Kimberley); “Step Truth” a pulsating song composed by Durban-based artist Njabulile Nzuza (who performs under the name Oud- skul Omello); and “Omoya” (“those of spirit” in isiZulu), a soothing, acoustic song by Thobekile Mbandla (whose stage name is Ntomb’Yelanga, “daughter of the sun” in isiZulu). This selection reflects the multisonic soundscape of my journey. The film, as the title suggests, reflects the idea of journeying and writing self. The long journey between desert-like Kimberley and tropical Durban, poverty and pos- sibility, is one I have done many times. Back and forth, I have moved between learning and unlearning. OFFERING T he process of making this film has allowed me to think deeply about how I view my own personal history and begin to resolve my own demons. By excavating my own story as prac- tice and research, I consider what it means to connect history-making in the present to what our future selves might refer to and build on, know- ing what we know. I hope in creating this work I have created a space for others to begin to consider how they might be writing, speaking, or danc- ing themselves into history in the now moment. THOBILE JANE MAPHANGA is a Durban based dance practitioner, creative collaborator, and emerging writer whose current preoccupa- tion is with Black female narratives and how Black women are writing themselves into history in the now. Through her research, which is theory and practice led, she explores where and how Black women use their voices and where these voices can be found. Through self-study she journeys to find her authentic voice and learn her true self through processes of questioning and unlearning. Her research methods include, but are not limited to, sitting in wait, listening, and improvisation.

using editing tools to make my film “sound proper,” I chose to amplify the tension between perfection and real- ity, to reveal the cracks in a way that starts to blur what is a mistake, what is improvised, and what is rehearsed. This act of revealing my shaky bits is risky on three counts—as a dancer, woman, and Black, I am held to impossible standards. In revealing my flaws, I empower myself by owning my imperfections. The edit follows the movement of the mistakes I make while dancing. The film is set mainly in two loca- tions. First, I move along the dusty pathway of an open field with win- tery dried grasses, never making it onto the tarred road at the end. My movement vocabulary is linear and repetitive here, a series of multiple attempts at the same choreography that I purposefully rehearsed bare- foot, on stable ground, and then performed in boots on uneven ter- rain. My balance is shot at first, but the more times I run the phrases the better it gets. As I tire, my sweat becomes visible. I repeat the phrase at varying speeds, allowing the camera to keep rolling a little after I falter, capturing my reactions. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I swear, sometimes I keep going. My costume in this space is an old turquoise bridesmaid’s dress that belonged to an aunty of mine, found in an old suitcase that also fea- tures in the film. Other props include a well thumbed Oxford dictionary, a history book titled The European World 1870-1961, and my old South African passports. The second location is an opening in a cool, green bamboo forest. Here, my movements became limited and shaky on the unstable, decaying ground. The choreography plays on two polari- ties, erratic and quiet. There are no props in this location; the costume is two identically patterned kaftans that belonged to my mother, one black, the other white. The sound score moves between Bach’s “Unaccompanied Solo Sonata


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FALL 2021 in dance 25




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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