TAKING CHANCES/MAKING CHOICES
The 2010 JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience has been a festival of collaborations. Foofwa d’ Imobilite’s The Making of Spectacles was a different and exciting collaboration with the audience in the selective creation of the dance-piece, influenced by Merce Cunningham’s ‘chance’ theory, using a democratic voting system rather than flipping a coin.
What appealed to me is the way in which Foofwa and his dancers Ruth Childs, Anja Schmidt and Filibert Tologo played with the concept of choices. The audience arrives expecting to watch a full-length work with dancers trained in ballet and a choreographer with a rich history of dance. A presentation of choices is made to them and majority vote, as in any democracy, is the decider. Having made their choice, which was presented to them, the audience watches their selected work with a variety of dissatisfactions which are always the case when choice is available.
Upon stopping the performance halfway, Foofwa asks the audience what they are unhappy with and here the audience is given choice to voice out their dissatisfaction. They only change the musical score and nothing else and in the discussion after the show have far more to say about what displeased them, which they were given opportunity to change during the halftime yet did not. This reflects the way in which audiences are passively critical of any choreographed work and when given the chance to change things around and be active co-creators they rarely exploit the opportunity.
This work also plays on the notion of people as co-creators of their democratic political reality, whether they like the outcome or not, and interrogates the political, social and commercial choices that fashion and influence dance and our realities. Once voted in, the government always does what it chooses to do on your behalf and thus you, as part of the majority or the minority, that did not vote for that current government, are never satisfied as what you asked for and expected is not what you see manifested, at least not all of it or as you wanted it. In the same way, though the audience becomes co-creator of the work, the choreographer and performers on the stage own the space and the work and do as they see fit, adding our choices rather than stick to just them. They perform and cover the work we did not choose, commenting on censorship which is all too prevalent in our South African media context with the media bill debate underway and the disbanding of the Scorpions.
The framing of a dance work involves many factors. Foofwa highlights these factors in the beginning when he thanks the sponsors Prohelvetia, JOMBA! And the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre platform for further funding and a place to perform the work, the audience as witness of the work and the dancers as performers of the work. Without all the above mentioned factors there would be no work thus the work is already framed before the choice of dance, costume, music and theme are made. He further comments on the way in which popular media, globalisation and commodification affect the creation process and presentation of dance-work. Though this work gives the audience choices of what there is to see, and they select a combination of what they wish to see, none is fully satisfied at the end of the work and therefore the aim is not to please the audience but to interrogate the concepts and themes of the work in order to challenge the audience and the ownership licence of dance itself.
Beautiful, bravely risky, yet classically choreographic and strongly political that’s The Making of Spectacles.