Global DanceFest 2008
Certain endeavors—sports, art, music, chess—serve as bridges between countries and cultures. Their universality creates an understanding between all involved. The difficulty of these exchanges, however, is in establishing a context. Programs need to accompany the goods, so to speak, to make an effective connection.
For evidence that art can connect otherwise disparate cultures, one only needs to look at the visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea. Led by conductor Lorin Maazel, the orchestra traveled there just a few weeks ago to perform Dvořák and Gershwin, as well as traditional Korean music. This concert provided the largest U.S. presence in that country since the end of the Korean War and made an overt effort to shrink divisions between cultures that don’t normally interact.
There is a multicultural sugariness in this sentiment, but there is power in any attempt to relate. And sometimes we’re surprised by how much smaller our world seems afterward.
Such is the attempt by the organizers of this year’s Global DanceFest, a four-week festival of contemporary African dance, which opens Friday, March 7. The 2008 program has expanded considerably from the original model developed when the festival started at the KiMo Theatre in 2001. This time around, the concentration is on deepening the audience’s connection with the performers and their works. To do this, the staff at VSA North 4th has added a major exhibition by photographer Antoine Tempé and an open forum, In Context, comprised of film screenings and discussions with the performers. Marjorie Neset, VSA New Mexico's executive director, says the idea with In Context "is that the artists pick films they think say something about their environment or the way they work, or in some way connects with them.” Neset adds that the goal of the open dialogues and photo exhibition is to broaden the festival’s audience as well as the understanding of the geographies from which the dances were born. To that extent, the audience will see work connected not only by its African heritage, but also through its focus on movement as a complex means of communication.
Antoine Tempé’s exhibition includes large-format photographs of West African dancers. The dancers exist in a neutral space, removed from any signifying context. The photography exhibit, which features some performers from DanceFest, could push the dialogue more in the direction of the dancers’ individuated use of body as material. The potency in an image of Julie Dossavi, slinking to the edge of the frame, is remarkable, if only for the fact it's one moment taken from a larger performance. These portraits show bodies as malleable forms put to the service of the dance and its dialogue. Within their neutralized contexts, any sort of regional division is surpassed by a link between the performers and their shared interest in dance.
Global DanceFest 2008 sets out to deepen our appreciation of contemporary African dance, but more importantly, to offer a prism through which to look at Africa’s influence on world culture. As much as the music of one orchestra won’t force any leader to dismantle his country’s nuclear arsenal, the performances by a handful of African dancers won’t force us to change our overall approach to that continent. But maybe ...