The recent launch of dance journalist Adrienne Sichel’s book on contemporary dance Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance (Porcupine Press) at the Market Theatre filled me with complex emotions. Sichel has been an important driver of how contemporary dance in this country has been covered, reviewed, marketed, challenged and even changed. For anyone who believes in the power of transformation and real diversity in the cultural context of dance, this book is an important offering into the academy and more. The event too was highly emotive – featuring dancers from different companies and well-wishers from around the world.
Perhaps what knocked at my ribs (was it my heart pounding, I wonder) was a duet, featuring dancers Musa Motha and Thabang Mojapeli. Motha is differently abled – he only has one leg and dances with the use of a crutch. Possibly one of the most beautiful works I have seen in a long time, the dancer’s feline fluidity was deeply moving. For people who are versed in the language of dance, it may not be so striking, but something shifted in me. I subsequently sent a photo of the two, taken by the supremely talented John Hogg, to the BASA team with the message, ‘If you are ever thinking of giving up…’ This, after all, is the example of true grit, and many, many South Africans could learn from it. (I think the duet should be taken to corporates, to teach them how to deliver against all odds – just a thought…)
Post the event, I was challenged by an arts journalist as to why BASA might have supported the book. The support was on the basis that we were then able to get RMB to add to the monies so that Sichel and the Artchive team could get it published. RMB has always been a supporter of contemporary dance, engaging in a manner that goes way beyond simply the funding or sponsorship, but with a real desire to make a difference in the sector, and broader society. What saddens me is that at a time when we are desperate to get South Africans, academia, business and government to see the value of the arts – in this case, contemporary dance – we are still being stymied by pettiness.
A book that acts as a vessel of institutional knowledge and is notable in how it focuses on the power of dance to transform and address socio-political themes is important. There is very little institutional knowledge or historical writing on the contemporary dance sector, a challenge and a problem for young practitioners. This book is one of the first in the steps moving forward, and while the frustration of BASA is that we cannot support everything, we need to think strategically as to how we impact broadly. Hopefully, this book will be a start in the library of dance works.
Perhaps what upset me too is the sense of anger, self-righteousness and privilege that seems to be feeding off our sector. This is a time when we have to be strong, we have to be united; we may not agree with one another – but, as Adam Kahane says in his book Collaborating with the Enemy, we need to consider how we work together, even with those we dislike, or don’t agree with. 2019 promises to be far more difficult than 2018 – between elections, an economy impacted by right-wing international politics, and struggling to get off of life support, and inequality, inequality, inequality. We need to acknowledge that the creative sector is not going to be top of mind for many, in both the private and public sector. It should be. But how we take this fight forward is going to decide whether we succeed or fail in making the difference.