In May 2017, I will travel to Burkina Faso to undertake a 4 week residency and mentorship with Serge Aime Coulibaly and Faso Dance Theatre thanks to the Keith Bain Travel Fellowship (Ausdance National) and the Innovating Practice Grant (Ausdance NSW). The journey to Burkina Faso will represent the first time I have travelled to another African county other than my homeland Ghana. For me Burkina Faso represents a place rich in art making, dance and performance as well as inspiration and revolution, a place where I can go to further develop my voice as a contemporary African choreographer. Travelling to Burkina Faso I hope to gain more insight into my own country Ghana, and what it means to be part of correcting a long history of colonisation where African’s did not get to tell their own stories. I want to learn more about how to talk about the things that matter to me and my culture, I want to encourage a questioning of how we do things in Ghana, in Burkina Faso and in Africa.
I often describe my dance and choreographic practice as looking for ways to negotiate what it means to draw on a rich history of traditional dance while innovating within a contemporary context. My methodology for developing dance work focuses on the collaboration between live music and movement and exploring intercultural movement vocabularies, and is more often than not informed by themes of social justice and the reinvigoration of past cultural forms and everyday life in Ghana.
The idea of decolonising my dance practice is a new area of exploration for me, a new process of redefining what inspires and drives my work as a dancer and choreographer of African descent and it is imperative that this process is located in Africa, that it occurs as a place-based exploration as well as in my mind, heart and body. For me it is finding new ways to speak, to strengthen my voice and speak to the everyday realities of life as an African and about life in West Africa. It has been from the distance provided by living and working in Australia, and visiting Singapore, Indonesia and India that this exploration has been inspired. The distance has allowed me to reflect on my culture and history and begin to critically reflect on life and dance in Ghana.
Growing up in James Town in Accra, you don’t find the dance, dance finds you. My dance journey started at age 8, and then again at age 14 when I began to take dance seriously. I studied with a well-known Ghanaian dance group being trained in traditional dances from Ghana and other parts of West Africa. My training in Ghana also included working with teacher and mentor Aikins Hyde, a Ghanaian born dancer and artist who now lives in Germany, who introduced me to contemporary choreography, improvisation and the development of movement from concept rather than from traditional movement focused practises. Working with Aikins opened my eyes to different ways of working and developing dance and movement informed by contemporary Western ideas about the production of dance. In Ghana, there is little questioning of how dance is developed and produced, Aikins opened my eyes to a world beyond dance as solely the reproduction of movements for cultural expression.
My development as a dancer was also further enhanced when I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Serge Aime Coulibaly in July 2013 for three weeks as part of Listening to Country – a research and development project for Marrugeku and Stalker Theatre to explore new approaches to dramaturgy in contemporary indigenous performance in Broome, NT. The three weeks I spent with Serge in 2013 shaped me a lot in terms of how I think about ways of generating movement materials in relationship to task and improvisation as well as using real life experiences. It went on to inform how I think about researching and developing movement practices and how to generate work from place-based experiences. It was also really important for me to work with Serge because of his role as a choreographer of African descent who is developing and producing work for the international stage that speaks about contemporary African issues. Serge is someone who has blazed the path before me who I can look to for direction and inspiration as part of the further development of myself as a dancer and choreographer of African descent living and working inside and outside of Africa.
This coming month I will be looking for ways to talk about the unspoken parts of my culture, to look at how to bring them to life so that I can contribute to countering the impact of colonisation on Africa and on my dance practice. I will be exploring how I can use my position as a performing artist to draw attention to the struggles of everyday Africa by exploring place-based work while being mentored by Serge in Burkina Faso. As I do so, I will be blogging about my explorations and findings so watch this space for more updates.
Thanks to the support of the Keith Bain Travel Fellowship and Ausdance National and the Innovating Practice Grant and Ausdance NSW for making this project possible.