How do you imagine an embodied philosophy that feeds your practice? In what ways do you cultivate collective possibilities and the presence of the individual in your work?
JESSI KNIGHT: “I imagine an embodied philosophy to look like an integrated approach to the balancing act that is creating/living art and the life that exists outside of the practice and the actual studio space. It looks like living the intentions of my work: creating meaningful, authentic and thoughtfully connected art that exists as a testament of my experience. It means constantly asserting the validity and necessity of acknowledging the practitioner (or student of the practice) as whole, that the beliefs, feelings, dreams, intuition, heart, mind and body are all critical pieces of embodied knowing and thus embodied practice.”
LÉNABLOU: “The Guadeloupean dancing body breathed the following philosophy into me. This body has a very particular way of moving in space and in its utter unpredictable relationship with rhythm. I call this approach “Bigidi’art.” It indicates an asymmetrical body, in permanent rupture. The body dances the harmony of disorder. The dancing body of Léwòz (one of seven traditional dances found in the Gwo-ka) is in a permanent imbalance, always at the edge of the penultimate fall, yet it never falls. For over 25 years, Bigidi has fueled my work’s foundation, both in my choreographic and pedagogical creations. The Bigidi spirit is currently a real philosophy of life as much in a personal and spiritual perspective as on a collective level. The popular local maxim “Bigidi mè pa tonbe”––which means that you can stumble and fail but you must never fall––is my creative backbone. I am strongly convinced that the histories of slavery and colonialism experienced by Guadeloupe cultivated, in our body and mind, the ability to bounce back, to adapt constantly and to remain standing. Bigidi is not only an art of the body but also a lifestyle, one of resistance.
RUJEKO DUMBUTSHENA: “I have lived most of my life as an alien resident, the culture and country that I am from growing ever more distant. Paradoxically, the country in which I live as an alien brings me closer to my own. Let me explain. The USA milieu cultivates my, often unconscious, practice of self-discovery. My individual transformation has become the strongest element that leads me to a sense of belonging and growth in feeling comfort in myself. After years of adaptation and assimilation, I began to retrace my steps in an attempt to feel at home while inhabiting someone else’s. Living within my displacement while grappling with what often feels like loneliness is my spiritual journey. Practicing, teaching and performing African dance keeps me rooted in a cultural context to which I feel I belong. My practice of African dance is my vital constant, which allows me the liberty to explore and adapt the ancient forms into a language that can speak in my unique expression. After many years of being trained not to pay as much attention to my own culture, history, and traditions as I do to those in the Western world, it took moving away from home and discovering communities that revere my culture more than I do to initiate my ongoing journey of discovering who I truly am.
“From the beginning of my time in America, I was driven to enculturate and became well trained at it. I had been taught to believe that the place that I was entering was far better than where I came. I wanted to assimilate and had practice in doing so. Years later I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was continually the sore thumb both away from home as well as in my homeland. Finding comfort and “home” within, I have become detached from actual geography and adhere to the steady process of self-discovery.
“African dance and music continues to help me cultivate community, which I believe is one of its primary functions. It brings people together through the power of its’ movements and rhythms. It allows the feeling of closeness while simultaneously demonstrating the specificity of self. I believe African music and dance evolved for that exact purpose. It makes the reality of collective expression truly and easily come alive for me. I am most inspired by the vitality of pan-African connection and collaboration. Bringing artists from various African countries to play and dance and sing together makes a rich setting for discovering our similarities. We are all united in marveling at the depth and richness that comes from the everlasting spring that is African music and dance. The work of organizing African artists collaboration, is one of the most rewarding endeavors of my career. I believe that the conferences and camps that I have organized are just the beginning and are indicative of the power of collaboration. I am most inspired and interested in developing pan-African co-operative performances.
“It is deeply gratifying to network and join forces with African-American artists and communities. Whether through dance classes, performance opportunities or trips to Zimbabwe there is a deeper significance and relevance when those important connections are made. I feel as if I provide a bridge to something profoundly conscious and spiritual. I have witnessed individuals moved by a deep sense of their connections, which the music, dance and trips to Africa evoke. In these communities I have learned what it means to “hold space”. I can, simultaneously, be part of and separate from an experience that I help to create. I can respectfully bear witness and not always relate. This practice paves my way home to a more consistent feeling of being comfortable in my own skin.
“I am grappling with my reality as female, foreign and black, and paying more conscious attention to not throwing any part of me out. It is the better alternative to homogenizing and satisfies my nostalgia. Although I have embraced the latter as my constant reality, it is my decision to stay true to myself. I do not really belong anywhere anymore, but it is through both a letting go and a discovering that I find myself surrounded by a community in which individuals are being lifted while, at the same time, lifting others. The artist that I am today allows me to pick and choose what personal aspects I want to incorporate into my new-found culture. Through my practice of African dance, my African roots regenerate in me while I allow myself to pull together all my conflicting facets. I want to make my soul a tapestry that shows off its different forces.”
YANIQUE HUME: “The question of embodiment becomes particularly germane when paired with the concept of memory and history. Within the context of the Caribbean, the geographical locale that provides a source of inspiration and where I ground my practice, these two ideas (memory and history) carry an enormous weight. The heaviness comes from the reality that the past and that which we are called to remember is often painful and fragmentary. As sites of the earliest and also protracted colonial/imperial experiments, our histories have been irrevocably interlaced with that of our oppressors and at times silenced from public reckoning. For many early explorers of these territories, we were a space devoid of history, a new world to be discovered and exploited; in a word, a tableau rasa of which new histories would be inscribed. While for some this offered a space to reimagine self a new, for many others that were forcibly brought to populate these isles it became a space of trauma but overtime a space to also call home.
“As a dancer/mover/explorer of African-diasporic and in particular Afro-Caribbean dance and movement vocabularies, the body becomes a central place to work through the silences and traumas of the past while also highlighting the incredible diversity of our identities. There are several layers of re-memory at stake: personal/individual, experiential, the meta-narrative of the collective re-embodiment as well as the memories re-exhibited by former incarnations that exist within the cellular repositories of the body. The body therefore becomes an intermediary site for the intersections of memory and reimagining healing futures. In my own practice the work of creating art entails tapping into the embodied memories bringing into consciousness and visibility what is not always tangible but yet energetically present. The aesthetic sensibilities that structure our innovative movement vocabularies are in constant motion and transformation and speak to the memory and history that has shaped who we are and who we are destined to become. My dance practice serves as a tool to remember to call to consciousness the elemental qualities we share as a people.
“Centering my practice within the realm of the sacred presents many possibilities for cultivating collectivities while allowing the individual to also blossom. The spiritual systems that have served communities across the Afro-Atlantic are inherently participatory. They call us to assemble, to enter a divine circle – a place of intimacy, safety and above all else, inclusivity. While occupying that space we are moved to share our innate gifts unencumbered by an external pressure to perform. In my own explorations and development of my dance practice I start from the premise that we all have a divine purpose and internal light that when ignited has tremendous transformative potential. Each individual has her own gifts, idiosyncratic style that when placed in conversation with another extends the range of aesthetic possibilities and meanings. My work embodies a hybrid synergy between folk and modern idioms informed by diverse sacred systems. What emerges from this collision of expressions, histories, embodied memories and sacred cartographies is a movement vocabulary that is both subtle and dynamic and one that elaborates on balancing the duality of power that exists within the feminine and masculine, the mundane and the divine. Indeed as one becomes more somatically aware the binaries fall to the side and in its place the potential for the coexistence, transcendence and reconciliation of multiple realities at the same time.”