In this latest installment of TALK DANCE, Justin Jones digs deep with choreographers Nelisiwe Xaba and Kettly Noël about their work Correspondances, along with MAPP International Productions co-director, Cathy Zimmerman. Jones and the artists discuss elements of expectations, globalization, and more issues that are present in their work, as well as their process. Correspondances is part of Program I in the Walker Art Center’s upcoming show Voices of Strength:Contemporary Dance and Theater by Women from Africa, a mini-festival of contemporary dance and theater by women from Africa.
A highlight of the conversation focused on the burden of expectation that audiences place on artists from Africa. As women from Africa, the perception of “what is African” is an all-too common question that Xaba and Noël address regularly in their work, as well as in this interview.
Nelisiwe Xaba: I think for both of us, it’s always a case of: you make the work, but the work is mostly performed outside of where we live. So, I think, for both of us, we’re always conscious about that. You know, how we present ourselves to the other, and how the other thinks about us. I remember, actually, during the making of the piece, we had a joke and said, “There’s people that will probably not like the piece because it’s not African, whatever that means.” So, I said to Kettly, “Well, you should have a Zulu skirt, or traditional African costume, and then you can wear it quickly when someone is leaving the theater and say, ‘Oh, stop, stop, stop, I do quickly an African step and then you can continue watching the show.’” We never did that, but it’s always in our mind. We never perform at home, so for us, we always have to think how we present ourselves... [Audiences] almost have a preconception of what African is. It’s almost as though Africa hasn’t moved. Or, at least in their mind, Africa is stagnant. So when we create the piece, I’m always conscious of that.
Voices of Strength: Contemporary Dance and Theater by Women from Africa, produced by MAPP International Productions, will perform at the Walker in two programs, October 10-14. Five artists are featured over two programs, as well as a free showing of Performance: Contemporary Dance from Africa by Nelisiwe Xaba and Kettly Noël on Saturday, October 14 at 6:30. Program I features the work of Nelisiwe Xaba (South Africa) & Kettly Noël (Haiti and Mali) and Nadia Beugré (Côte d’Ivoire) and will be performed Oct 10th & 12th. Program II features the work of Maria Helena Pinto (Mozambique) and Bouchra Ouizguen (Morocco) on Oct 11th & 13th. All shows are at 8 pm. Tickets are available through the Walker Box Office at 612.375.7600 or buy them online here: Program I, Program II.