Conversation: May 24th Morning

S: Su-Feh
A: Anis
H: Hari
Z: Zab
K: Kaija
D: David
J: Joan
P: Participant question

S: Welcome everybody, good morning. We are in a more intimate configuration today. Uh, just so you know, these conversations are being recorded and eventually will be made into podcasts. So, make sure whatever you are saying is smart enough (laughter). No pressure. But very quickly for people who weren't here, I'm just going to do a quick introduction. My name is Su-Feh, this is Jennifer Mascall, this is Anis Nor from Malaysia, Hari Krishnan and then Zab Maboungou. Okay, I want to talk about violence this morning. Yesterday, um, Jennifer said contemporary dance is dead. Hari said contemporary dance is classical dance. Zab said folk dance is murder. Um, and then we talked about outrage. That was one of the words that was in the air. And I said that to have an experience where there is no outrage in your life is a political privilege and an economic privilege. But I kind of want to bring it to the notion of the gaze because um, Anis, when you talked about the outrage of the performer under the gaze of the King, or the gaze of the teacher or the master, it made me think about the gaze as an act of violence upon the body. And if we think about the privilege of gazing at someone else then, in a sense, I'm using provocative language here, then your position of power and your economic power to buy a ticket and watch someone, privileges you to commit an act of violence upon another body.

Michelle isn't here, but when I talked to her some time ago, you know, she talked about being a First Nations artist who actually had no connection to any of the folk traditions because her community had lost it. So, there had been a rupture, in her, the community’s history. And, as an artist, she was trying to work with community in remembering stories from the community. But she talked about how aware the community was of being watched and being seen from the outside. And she, as an artist, was aware of her work and everything she did being seen. And the tension between the work being bought, and being a commodity, and what it means for her, as an artist, working with the community. And I would like to, so, I kinda feel that when um, we have the privilege of looking, of being subject, and we look at an object, there is a power dynamic that we need to be conscious about. And within the, the, framework of performing, of just a dancer onstage and an audience, this is how we normally watch dance now, uh, but then also the, you know, when we look at different traditions, I sort of I wonder about the violence of that gaze and how aware we are of that gaze. So, I'd like Hari to talk to us a little bit about the, you know, you touched upon the development of the Bharatanatyam from the Devadasi tradition of the temple, and then um, in colonial times of being entertainment or it becomes classical. The notion of the colonial gaze and the post-colonial gaze. And yeah, what happens to the body under those gazes?

H: Sure. Let me uh, go back a little bit um, just to just give some sort of contextual understanding of who the Devadasi is. Umm, there were two factions of professional dance artists. One was the professional dancer, the Devadasi, and one was the professional dance master, who was the male. So, there was a clear sexual political play here. And as a very clear sexual bifurcation in terms of the male being the teacher, the choreographer, the mentor and the female being the performer, the dancer. The male being the puppet master and the female being the puppet. And usually this was the case in terms of the Devadasi dance politics, um. The word Devadasi is loosely translated as servant of God or slave of God, because they have a very introspective, very intimate connection to the temple. So, they were more for ritual specialists, so if that's a folk dance terminology, I'm not too sure, I'm still grappling with that in lieu of this particular discussion. Uh, in time, she had, her lifestyle was extremely controversial, because unlike the domesticated Hindu wife, the Devadasi was one of the only instances in pre-colonial India where the women ruled. The women exerted financial independence, the women lived in a matri-focal, matri-local, matriarchal society where the leader, head of the household, was a female. She controlled the finances, she did not need a man to qualify her. Of course, if she was married to God, that was a symbolic marriage, and she had the opportunity, the ability to choose a human patron, a lover, but not a husband because she was married to God. So, that's why her status in society was extremely venerated. She was seen as the most auspicious, the eternally auspicious one because she was married to God and the philosophy is, God cannot die. So, um, living with someone and having a patron was extremely dichotomous to the Victorian, the British, the Christian moral police in terms of livelihood, in terms of not having a one-man, one- woman conjugal relationship. Whereby the Devadasi had a separate household and usually this particular patron was from a high class community, a married man and um, it was, uh, important to have a Devadasi, as a, not as a mistress, but as a life partner. So, there is one scenario. So eventually because of this particular rupture in terms of lifestyle and in terms of gaze, the status of the Devadasi was reduced eventually by the early 20th century to that of a prostitute. So, the translation in most textbooks, you will see, Devadasi means courtesan, right? So, courtesan is such a loaded term, it’s such a eurocentric term. Courtesan according to whom? Courtesan according to a western sensibility? We have to reinvent that word. So, why use that word courtesan? That's one scenario.

And in terms of a performance culture, like I said yesterday, she danced in the temple. Where she did a very specific ritual, intimate repertoire. Where it was not conscious entertainment, there was no razzle dazzle in the type of, in the artistry which she danced. In the court she did a much more exaggerated dance technique and there the patron was no longer a God made of stone, it was a King who had specific cultural aesthetic expectations, so he commissioned the dance master to create x number of dances. And usually these compositions were in praise of the King or his family line. So there was uh, specific type of composition, compositional quality, textual quality which became secular. Religious versus secular compositions, not in praise of Gods and Goddesses, not in a spiritual cosmic realm, but in a more secular tangible realm of existence. Um, so several things took place at this juncture, the type of repertoire was extremely, uh, because the essence of Devadasi dance is couched in love, it’s couched in eroticism, it's couched in sexuality, like I said yesterday, and couched in spirituality, the Gods are humanized. So, you can pray to a specific God, let’s say Krishna, at the same time at night you can go to bed with him and make passionate love to him. So, there was a wonderful, wonderful juxtaposition of spirituality and secularism within the aesthetic quality of Devadasi dance which was in complete controversial antithesis to the British norm of art, the British values of what aesthetics is, and the British values of sex, and of eroticism and of spirituality. These things have to be compartmentalized. So, not wanting to have a large historical class, eventually the degradation of the Devadasi took place by 1947, the colonial experience coupled with the nationalist revival of taking pride in your national legacy, and trying to revive and reconstruct your dance form. The Anti-Devadasi Bill was implemented in 1947, thus disenfranchising the indigenous community from the dance. So, there was a complete separate. This dance now was repackaged, re-commodified, re-evaluated, re-valued for international global consumption. So, Bharatanatyam was born. Bharatanatyam was a very strategic name because the name Bharat means South Asia, it means India. And with Bharata and the word natyam, means some sort of theatrical dance or theatrical experience. So, Bharatanatyam literally translated as the dance of India. So, it became a new dance, it became a new kind of nationalistic pride and once again the participants were Britishers, were English educated nationalists, were revivalists, were dance artists interested in internationalism, in cosmopolitanism, in trying to make a dance a global commodity because by reinventing the dance, you can also reinvent the national landscape of the country and the political, socio-economic landscape of that country. So, what you had, and these participants very, very intelligently, and I must say, very strategically, reengineered the birth of this form. So, when you have this form in a diaspora, for instance in Canada we have two fold law here. One, we have to legitimize the form as a classical form, as a traditional form, and as a contemporary form and now as a postmodern form. So, you see where the complexity lies. Tradition according to whom? Tradition according to 1930's, 1940's, tradition according to 19th century? Tradition according to prior 17th century? Tradition according to whom? So, context is very, very important before you throw around that word tradition, classical or contemporary. That's why I said yesterday contemporary is the new classical, because the value judgment of the pressure of classical dance artists, either from arts funders or from arts presenters or from festivals, the pressure for classically trained dance artists to create contemporary work, because that's the in thing to do now, and to reconfigure the form, to re-inscribe the alphabet of classical dance. That is also very interesting issue to discuss. So, I am going to leave it at that because then we can jump in and talk about several other issues I have just addressed here

S: A moment of pause.

K: Well, actually I, can I ask a question?

S: Yes.

K: Hari, you said that it’s the classical, that becoming contemporary is the in thing to do. But isn't it more than that? Isn't there a reason that people want to become, make their dance contemporary? A reason of, I'm not sure what it is, and I'm actually quite interested to understand what it is in terms of folk dance. But isn't it something about intellectual exploration or aesthetic exploration then?

H: Absolutely, which is why I said that the classical dance reinvented in the 1930's was the first rupture of contemporary dance, the first seed of contemporary dance. There is no need to contemporarize an already contemporary dance aesthetic. You can change it, you can reconfigure, we can reconstruct, but the alphabet for contemporary dance was already laid in 1930's and 1940's. That is what is called classical now. So, when you say it’s classical, classical according to whom?

K: So, you would say it was contemporary in 1930 and 1940?

H: Seeds of contemporary dance, that was the first rupture because there was a complete disconnect between the indigenous community and the dance. The dance became repackaged; the dance became suitable and was made more palatable for global consumption. So, that became the first advent of contemporary dance as far as my research is concerned. And that's what I am trying to say. We have to write a new script.

K: But did the global consumption, wouldn't that have come later, wouldn't it have started?

H; No, because one of the revivalists, the neoclassical revivalists was very much influenced by Pavlova, and Pavlova at the Bolshoi Ballet. Rukmini.

K: Rukmini Devi.

H: Rukmini. And Devi was a term added much later, worshiping as the Queen Mother of the Theosophical Society. That's a different topic altogether, umm. So Rukmini, when she had reengineered and recreated the form was very much applied, a very definite conscious Bolshoi Ballet aesthetic of the males dancing a specific way, of the females dancing a specific way. So, she changed the whole nature of solo Devadasi dance into a dance group ensemble experience. Very much influenced by Swan Lake and Giselle, and what have you, the ballet classics. Very much trying to impose a Tchaikovsky type of score in terms of commissioning Indian composers in 1930's and 1940's, to re- think, to reevaluate the dance theatrical experience, so that they can have a nationalistic pride. Look at what Russia can do; look at what the Bolshoi Ballet can do. That became the yardstick for excellence. You see?

A: I have a question. Rukmini designed this desire, this need to develop the high arts from a tradition that was an ordinary temple based tradition and the whole contestation of the sanskritization of tradition.

H: Mmmhmm.

A: And the Kalakshetra, of the school that came about.

Rukmini – Kalakshetra

And the present contestation in India, on the issues of appropriating the form that (inaudible word) invention of the Kalakshetra period as, vis-a-vis, to the form that was brought forth by the late Barasvati, umm, and that is boiling in India. The fact that you have the Brahmin, the high caste, the performative resemblance, iconography of that classical view, that classical gaze, that notion of high art, vis-a-vis, the presence of the others in India who are not interested in looking at the formation or creation of the invention. Rather than looking at what they are facing right now. So, there are two things that I want to ask you. One is, I'm hearing you coming in, it’s perfect, it’s a wonderful illustration of a diasporic tradition in basically Canada. A yearning to sum itself, the word is better probably, to gel, to become part and parcel of the contemporary performed representation of a particular community. Whereas in India, that doesn't exist, the issue is a clear contestation between the elite sensoratized school of Kalakshetra and the others. So, this is a very interesting work going on and I do not know how, how, whether your definition of the new classical as being operative to, at all, or representative of the contemporary dance. Could itself be a trajectory that embodies what diasporic societies are, rather than embodies what the generic system is in India. Do you know what I am trying to say?

H: I do. But then you have to question what the generic system is. It’s important to challenge those preconceived, those clichéd and stereotypical nomenclature that has already been laid down for us in historical textbooks as Bharatanatyam being two thousand years old, which is false, it’s only a three hundred year old form. Bharatanatyam is a spiritual dance, which is again false, and Bharatanatyam has been passed down and is the dance of the prostitutes. A.

B. The different scenario of the form being co-opted by a specific community, a specific caste, a specific group of international thinkers. And that becomes the norm of tradition, that becomes the norm of classicism, that becomes the norm of ummm, of uh, what is the authentic prescription. And you talk very interesting about a very famous Devadasi called Bansvanasvati.*

Now it's very, the huge problem I have with this is, Bansvanasvati* was one of the first Devadasis to dance in North America, in fact where I teach at Wellesley University, Bansvanasvati* was the first dance artist in residence to teach in ah, Wellesley University from the Devadasi community. So, she was a privileged Devadasi, unlike the hundreds and thousands of Devadasis who were unprivileged, whose voices were silent and, in my field work, in my research I have interviewed in many of these Devadasi communities. So, in terms of my work Anis, what I've done is I have put Bansvanasvati* and Rukmini, both are contemporary visionaries. You cannot put them as polar opposites, because both of them were instrumental in reviving, in revitalizing the form of Bharatanatyam as we know it now, but they went about different ways of satisfying that. Bansvanasvati* had the good fortune of Lewis Scripts, the Scripts Foundation of the Doris Duke Foundation, she had all these rich patrons in the west, who were supporting, who were paying copious amounts of money in terms of her zeal, in terms of her vision. Rukmini was married to George Arundale who was the British colonialist from the Theosophical Society, who was thirty years her senior, so she was already married to a catch, she was already married to a financially secure lifestyle, which allowed her to travel the world and to see different artistic experiences. Particularly in Europe and in North America, so she brought that kind of international logic and international type of consumption back into India by restructuring into a dance theatre and ensemble type of institutionalized, organic learning and pedagogic learning. Bansvanasvati* did the same thing, but did not go into choreographing, but reinvented the form according to her in terms of the solo dance, but the Devadasi dance became a contemporary expression of Bansvanasvati*. So, Bansvanasvati* does not speak for the mainstream Devadasi community, Bansvanasvati* speaks for herself. Just like Rukmini speaks for herself. So, but both of them are also important participants in the revitalization and the revival of the dance.

S: It sounds to me that, um, the evolution or development of Bharatanatyam then in India um, I come back to the gaze, it happened as a result of the gaze on a new nation state.

H: Oh, no question, absolutely Su-Feh. Absolutely. And it seems to me, the difference between the conversations in India and the conversations in a diasporic culture, the gaze is different. The gaze of being Indian in the nation state of India, the gaze upon that is a different gaze from being a gaze of being part of the diaspora in Canada or in England or, you know?

H: Because you have different kinds of expectations, right?

S: Exactly.

H: Values are different.

S: And you are part of the-

H: Larger discourses (laugh).

A: I mean Kathakali is another example, which I think we should take note also, you know, it is big in India today when Indian.


There is a new school, a new centre established. Just about two months ago. The centre for modern dance at uh-

H: In Hyderabad, right?

A: No, though Hyderabad is fantastic, I would talk about Hyderabad, I'm talking about-

H: The master city.

A: No, you'll be surprised at what I am going to say. The Rabindra University in Calcutta, which was of course, Rabindra school. And up, just gave a chair position, an endowed position for one of the dance persons to establish the modern dance centre. I was in Calcutta just a couple of months back and one of the trip I did was to do something, I was called upon by these very people, and it’s very interesting, they, they, they have this problem, the problem is we have to define modern dance, uh, from that gaze, from us. And us is inclusive of the fact that you too are us. I was very surprised that way, that they included me as us. I, you know, because I said:

“Hello, how can I be us?”

But, no, no, no, we looking from the Asian, the Southeast Asian, the South Asian thing. It ends up, however, to my very strong, it as a rough ride, I mean we were given free lunch, I think the lunch was- I was very clear about this. You know in West Bengal the first ever contemporary modern dance that developed from the ideas of Dagot*. Dagot* had it set in as a narrative, but it did not go anywhere, it just sat there. It only went with the shankiri,* I call it the shankirian* system, the school of style, and that evolved into the first word that was used the Odeshinka* Ballet which of course, you know the history very well, how it was connected and all that. And there's two thing in West Bengal, one is the Odeshinka* Institute for Dance, the other one is the tacouri you know. So, they are trying to figure out how to address the issue, amongst young Bengalis this is the issue, young Bengalis to differentiate what modern dance is because the young Bengalis have no idea what modern dance is from what, what we're coming from. Today modern dance is whatever that's young, whatever is normal. That means Bollywood dancing, hip hop thing going, booty shaking, whatevernot. And that was the reason why the modern dance centre was established which I felt was, was rather-

Bollywood Dance - Devdas

S: Sorry, when you say modern dance, do you mean like a western notion?

A: Precisely, in the context of the Bengalian youth, the word modern dance is just a word that represents the word modern. It has nothing to do with the notion of what we understand modern as right? Modern is a recurring theme, so there was this whole argument that Bengalis are losing all the tradition because of the modern dance and there is a big confusion, we are very confused with the folk, classical, whatever in India or in that part of the world, and they are very confused with this. So, the old school people are trying to say let’s make a stop to this, let’s establish a modern dance centre and tell them. Now, there is such thing as modern dance and I ask them this question:

"What is in your mind modern dance?"

And in your mind is tacouri or shankiri and that's modern, that's history. Because it was at one point, but who cares about that right now. I mean the system is so obsolete-

H: Outdated.

A: Outdated. So, here again is a very interesting way of looking at how we're looking at the word enrage and angst that we had last night, you know because the older guys who came through this process are furious that they, who were the pioneers of modern Bengalian dance, are now sidelined and being replaced by the greater Bollywood dancing which to them is completely out of scale. So, it’s a very interesting way of looking how the rupture in the Bengalian structure has brought forth the desire and immediate necessity to get this thing going. Which never, nobody really cares about really getting a modern dance institute and now it is and when Uday Shankar Dance Centre had their four years and now it’s run by Swire* and all these people, it never got to be the level of University. So, suddenly you got to have this University. And I have a feeling that in Bengal there is going to be an very interesting shift of how all these definitions are going to come forth forward now because I ask them first, I said:

"When you say modern dance what do you mean by that?"

Of course they cannot answer, or give me the answers that I want. Because they are locked into the desire that rupture, that angst, that furious desire of we have to hold this and not let it go because this was the one that made us, you know, known. So, perhaps that connection will be able to extend further, I mean, I am trying to respond to the way when we are, the words you put this morning are very important words and I still assert my, my, my point last night that you need to be. There is a lot of anger, a lot of, you know the desire to do something because there is this thing that has always challenged you. Challenged you in a way that you feel you are losing something. In Asia, in India, in China, now mostly in China now. We have dancers in China that, who are highly acrobatic very beautiful, the physical, virtuosic. But they are just gymnastic, they are no longer in bodies(indecipherable)*, you know, and that is a contentious issue that goes all around Asia as we talk about the global village.

Virtuosic Acrobatics

And perhaps that would be able to throw something at how things in Canada, and things in UK and things in Australia are being addressed. I'm just throwing it to-

Participant (P): Well I'm very stimulated by the conversation. I can't claim that I understand everything about what everyone is saying. But what it does to the conversation is stimulating ideas for me about, so of the notions about folk dance, and the palace and also from what Su-Feh started us off today with, the idea of violence and the gaze, and the violence of the gaze, and I think about someone who isn't here, Michelle, and some of the experiences of First Nations, well, all First Nations culture, and the gaze that was placed on those cultures and the lack of gaze, and the lack of opportunity for gaze that happened when the potlatch was made unlawful. And this idea too around colonialism and post-colonialism. I think there are connections there and the, um, sort of the emergence of cultures from that post, from colonialism and I'm thinking about Quebec and sort of the, I guess the struggles that were happening. And when we were talking about folk or when the idea of folk came up yesterday, Su-Feh said we weren't going to talk about Shumpka, but something triggered-

S: Why? We can talk about Shumpka, I just don't consider them in my definition of folk. I left them out.

Shumpka Dance

P: But there was a company called Les Sortilèges which came around in the sixties and seventies and it was all around, you know, there was Quebec as a culture, a diasporic culture. And I guess at the time there was a real consciousness of immigration from Europe and Britain, Scottish, and the ideas of folk dance and this- so Les Sortilèges collected these folk dances presented them as performance pieces, they toured the world with this. There was a construct, I think, that was being made, coming out of a post colonialism a re-emergence of Quebec identity, and attaching itself to something like that and expressing itself. And I think there are connections with how Bharatanatyam came up and some of us, Anis was talking about this yesterday, in Malaysia, and the more traditional forms and then this idea of the palace and Su-Feh asks us, it it the Canada Council? And I was thinking about that struggle, that Les Sortilèges had, I think it was highly politicized, it went to around getting support from the Canada Council because of the folk traditions and there was a whole, there were other companies to that were-

A: Did Les Sortilèges get any influence from Mosief*?

P: From?

A: Ego Mosief*? Well, you know, Ego Mosief * sorry, this is-

K: I guess Shumpka would have.

A: Yeah, I thought. Because this is why I thought maybe you want to raise this, just cause you mention it now. You know in Southeast Asia, most of South East Asia the idea of folkloric performance onstage, you know, of performing the folk practice on stage. Came about from the Mosief way of putting, you know, the Russian Ballet or Russian dancers and creating new dances, and those new dances eventually became folk dances of communities where they were created for the stage, you know? In the Balkan* areas. And Mosief method of virtuosic humor, game, dance and all that thing that is entertaining, but yet sustaining high level of performative skills. Uh, became so significant when post-colonial Philippines took the first move of creating the dance company made famous by Bayanihan and went in 1955-56 to the Belgian World Trade Fair and that was when the dance of the Filipinos, in 1956, became so famous and other countries in South Asia, after gaining independence, look into the success of the Bayanihan Filipina, which was a colony of Mosief, to be an example to be followed in Malaysia and many countries did that. So, when, when, this is very important now when you are talking about, why would a Filipino dancer, I had this dialogue right about three weeks ago in Bacarra, in Negris Occidental, why would a dancer coming up in the Philippines, a Filipino dancer, dancing the dance of the Southern Philippines which has the morals of the Muslim South, as opposed to Central Mezines(?) and Northern Catholic, Protestant community. Performing that South which was a dance created onstage for the Maylanianze* and that has been negated by the Southerners for not resembling or taking any nuances from their tradition yet, yet, yet it continues as commoditive exchange, it continues. Teachers get employed by teaching this stuff then teaching the other one. So when I, I always like to do this, I showed about fifteen, twenty minutes of some documentation I did in the islands in the South, and the guys who are in desire in Northern Manila is like, okay, this exotica emerges, to them it’s exotic South but there is a relationship, you know. And this is a very powerful, um, image of imagining the other in a nation state like the Phillippines, like Malaysia, like Singapore whatever, and, and these issues of addressing what is folk and what is not becomes same thing, it is there and it’s so, you negotiate it, eventually you negotiate it, it doesn't make any sense, you negotiate it. And to me looking now, and listening to all the dialogues yesterday and today, I say:

"Ahh, fantastic."

And listening how, how, um, the communities outside of these countries are reacting to identifiers, signifiers, that makes meaning to whatever you want to perform. And we have to take note of this, right? And you just mention, just now with the Quebec style, I very, pretty sure it was the school of the Mosief, uh, methodology that brought the whole, really changed the entire folklore kind of thing you know. There is copious example, you know. You look at Mexican folkloric dance you put it next to Quebec you put it next to, it’s almost formula wise, it’s almost a cookie cutter, it’s just how you patch it up. So maybe, maybe that too is a factor. That is a factor yes.

S: Can. I just want to bring us back because yes, maybe you can think about, often these things come up because there's a gaze upon us but I feel like the holder of the gaze is invisible, the person, and this is what I was trying to say yesterday when I say, or this morning. The privilege of looking is a political privilege. It’s a privilege of not being seen, of being anonymous. You sit in a dark theatre and can watch the performer. And as we talk here, the privilege of being white and looking at these different cultures is not acknowledged, often, as a huge player in the environment of how things move and how things get changed. We like, the myth is that there is this generic, this logic within the development of the Devadasis in into Bharatanatyam dance that's-

H: That's convenient.

S: That, that is ah, internal and has nothing to do with outside forces, but in fact we all live together and there is a violence in living together and seeing one another, but um, often it’s because of colonial history, it’s violence one way. But you are not aware it’s violence because you are just watching and so the violence or the outrage, that Anis talks about, is the outrage of being watched and we can think about it within the microcosm of just the dancer being watched, or a community being watched as it’s trying to, um, tell a story.

J: But there is another kind of violence on the other side, the violence of watching a form that has suddenly become for show that wasn't for show. The violence of, so that the audience who comes with, the audience who has bought a ticket to, comes because they want something, they may not know what they want, but they come to watch to, because they want something fulfilled in them by this watching. And when they watch a form that is there for form, because it has been invented to show us what happens so we go and watch the Kris dance in Bali where, and think:

"Oh, ya that’s what they did."

Kris Dance

We, it makes violence in us because we're not fulfilled because the longing for the divine, which is what made the Kris go into trance, the whole thing isn't there, they're just showing us the form of the possibility of it. So, it makes a gap so we are left behind and so-

S: I think the gap is that you are not seen and there is no violence done to you because you are not being watched.

J: The violence is in me in the unfulfillment. The unfulfillment of the longing that I just left. I don't get what I came for and I think that happens, when you watch a dance that has been taken out of the place that had the meaning that made. So, I think when you talk about the Devadasis as being servants of God, well they knew something when they were servants of God, and through context they changed to something else and when, like any art that's been taken out of a, that was made in a spiritual context when it’s taken out of the spiritual context what happens is, it feels to me as an artist, incumbent on the artist, is that they have to establish a rigor to replace the spiritual context, which is a rigor of understanding what is spiritual, in that, what is the study that made that? In order, and then the rigor of the art-making becomes the study of what is it that made something divine, and it’s an abstraction. It becomes an abstraction because you don't know if someone is saying this is the temple, this is the God, this is how you do it, it all goes like this, and if you do this then you will get the right feeling. And the audience will get it, and the art is then abstracted from, it has to study the laws of what makes the world happen and as an artist does that then, their training changes because their training has to be not just the form of doing the ballet, not just the form of doing the folk dance, their training has to be a training of an artist simultaneous to that. So suddenly if we have, let’s have a modern dance school it, it doesn’t matter if it's a modern dance school or it’s another kind of school if the training of the artist, which is the training of the laws of what makes the body speak to other people, doesn’t go hand in hand with that, then you're dead in the water. And so what a contemporary, if someone wants to move into contemporary they don't move into a label, they move into what made something contemporary, and what makes something contemporary from my life is that you ask the question why, and you become an iconoclast and you ask why do people wear shoes, why do people look to that corner, you ask why every step of the way. This exhausting analysis, so that if somebody wants to start a modern dance school, they have to start a school that is just called Why? So you look, why do we have to stand in a circle and hold hands this way. We hold hands this way because my mom always did it, or the grandmother always taught, you hold the hands this way. Or do we do it because somewhere in there, there is a connection, which is a transmission, which is about the laws of nature which would mean we would channel something divine so that the, these people would feel the meaning that was inherent in it once. And that only can continue that would make anything, doesn’t even matter what the label. If it’s contemporary is, if you can continue that study of what those rigorous laws are.

(Disc 2 of 2)

S: Can I, Zab you wanted to say something?

Z: I have learned so many things (laughter). Umm, about the case of course, and violence, and outrage, and angst and all these terminologies that really refers to the rage of being unable to intervene, as proper human beings, in this universe because that's what it’s about. Dancers, all over the world, especially the ones who have been gone or had to go through colonization understand this and this is why, when you talk about violence, Jennifer, it depends on which violence you are talking about and which gaze are we talking about? Since we are in a society of performers of course our gaze is all sorts (inaudible), but we are talking about some specific ones that throughout history went on defining what was culture for the humans, and as Hari has shown us very well, cultures reinvent themselves, they’re good liars. They invent themselves, and those inventions, the problem is that those inventions become absolute for some. And this is where the problem lays, and the gaze will arise from these standpoints of absolutes. Jumping back to, for example, when I was very young in Africa, I was struck by the fact that whenever there was some dance going on, if you had a French person coming with a photographer, a camera, there would be a fight immediately, you would be beaten. The reaction was, so talk about violence, that was it and of course this is independent Africa, they wouldn't have been beaten if it were colonial Africa but in Independent Africa, a French person coming with a photograph, a camera would be beaten if they tried to take these dances. So, that is very significant, that those people in this instance, the Congolese people, knew very well what it meant to be photographed by a French person while they were dancing. It meant, let’s watch those tribal, folkloric dances of these black people and let’s show them back, when we are going to go back to France, and they knew that for them they were being, of course, not even labeled, but reduced immediately to what history had been reducing them. Which is basically, uncivilized African people, negroes maybe? To talk the terminology of USA. And that with no culture, and that the only possibility for these African people was to be civilized by Europe, of course, in order to join in the big world of civilized nations. So, this is something that is still going on, let’s not have any uh, these things are still when we talk about post colonial era we are still dealing with these representations. Very much so. Even though Africa has been independent for more than seventy years, but it’s not much in human history. What is that? So basically, colonialism is right behind us, it’s right there, it’s also in the middle of us and the gaze is very much there because I had to deal with it myself when I came in Canada, so that's much much later on. And Canada, who prides itself on being far from colonialism, well let’s talk about First Nation people then, okay. But at least feel protected from that, if we have to compare Canada to Europe, because we were colonized by French people for some other parts of Africa were English, so Canada feels protected from that, but nevertheless it inherits, directly, it’s inherited the attitudes of these people from Europe and it has carried these attitudes here.

When I was performing I was being assessed as being real disappointed because she's transporting these traditional dances on the proscenium stage and it doesn't fit. There we go, we feel violated, we feel disappointed at what she's doing. She's betraying her traditions. She's doing something she is not supposed to do. Those dances are supposed to be out there, outside under the sun not on the proscenium stage. So, when she brings those dances on the proscenium stage, she is betraying her culture and betraying us who are watching her, who expect her to deliver something authentic, there we go. So, of course, my position at the time, okay, what are they referring to being my tradition, maybe they know something I don't know about my tradition? And I was very much prepared being able to accept that being a colonized person, we learn that, to find out about ourselves we need to go in France. We need to go into those museum, in, in those libraries, in those Universities to really understand who we are. The only problem still is about the dance. Because dance was, is still, that very domain that seems to be belonging to black people in the world. They have that in their genes, in the blood. Dance, there's this primitive, frantic, extremely powerful thing that happens in Africa that we haven't been totally able to control. So we might as well show it, use it. And if I have to jump again, make a historical jump, because I have to cover things very fast here, let’s end up here in America, in North America, when I meet with the people. The diasporic Africans, if I may call them that way, that may be discussed, and that may be, and people may not agree, those people who came because of slavery are part of a diasporic culture. They came not owning themselves, being owned. Totally deprived, with a total radical rupture with where they were coming from, and not even understanding where they were landing and what was happening to them. So, meeting with those people who some of them have kept African traditions, incredibly, I mean very impressively, in a very lively manner, if we look at the Haitian people, for example. And yet at the same time I had to register an incredible gap with those people, because I work with Haitian people, so when they listen to rhythm and they look at me and say:

"This is a Haitian rhythm."

And then I answer back, "No, this is a Congolese rhythm."

And you register the gap and what do we have in the middle of that gap? Is imperialism, is colonial empire, that is the gap. So, we look at Haitian people as Africans, we see them, we see through them. They don't see us. They don't see African people. They don't understand Africa. But we look at them as being African people transported in a funny place. Everything in their gesture, talk, way they relate to spirituality, dance, absolutely everything, it’s incredible how much after six hundred years, things are there but we are unable to communicate when it comes to it.

Haitian Rhythm- Haitian Chant

We are saying it, yes we all come, because thanks to the western countries who have been able to access to this history, everybody knows now, that we are coming from Africa. Even Haitian people know that they come from Africa. But this is something that they do not want to discuss. It’s a knowledge that is almost imposed on them by a universal knowledge that we have now about coming from Africa. But this universal knowledge is not fed with real input coming precisely from Africa about what Africa is. What are those traditions? Especially when it relates to dances, because dances do carry in Africa, an immense wealth of knowledge on the way we understand the world in those traditional, at least the world was understood in this traditional Africa and what has happened since then. Another jump to refer to what you were talking about. The construct, the nationalistic construct, of course Africa went for that. Typical of all the countries that had to resist, rebel against and basically fight colonialism, and then redefine themselves after they were independent, which is what Africa did. It started with Guinea, Senegal, Congo actually, some of those countries. Not exactly in the same manner there are different aspects, in, in the case of Guinea because Guinea was the first one to declare, to say to Charles de Gaulle, the president of France, saying no, we do not want to belong to France, we refuse. It was a scandal, it was the first African country saying we do not want to be French anymore, we want to be free of you. Charles de Gaulle had to accept that, so that was the Guinea of Sékou Touré and Sékou Touré started really looking at, precisely for him, what was traditional Africa and specifically looking at those dances, the music, the wealth of music and dances that was there and he decided, yeah, they were going to create a national ballet based on those Russian ballets.

Sekou Toure

Again, so we were going to come up with our ballets. So, when you talk about ballet in Africa you actually talking to what people see it as the traditional dances of Africa. They’re called ballet. Those ballet do not refer to the tradition, the way the elders see tradition in Africa. This is a term that is used by westerners to describe those ballet, those national ballet companies as being the expression of traditional Africa. But it is actually, the expression of modern Africa. Modern Africa came up with those national ballets and those national ballets are basically, Sékou Touré the president of Guinea at the time, sent all these researchers in the villages and say:

"Come up with all the dances, with all the stories, with the musics. Let us collect them, let’s archive them and build, construct our own ballets. That will be a decent answer to the western ballets. They have they’re ballets, we're going to have ours. Why? Because they have their culture, we have ours."

It was a way to answer, as free countries, independent country, independent nations that were also building themselves as nations basically collecting all the, the ethnic folklores, as this was a term at the time by the colonizers, the French people, in the case of Guinea. And these folkloric groups, basically were put together but, but Sékou Touré went on with a very specific mean of nationalistic aim of collecting this and he began the Guinean troupe, the national ballet, which actually came in Montreal some thirty or forty years ago with their naked breast, you know, the big of North America. That was the national ballet, you know? Coming in North America and showing, you know, some of this fierceful dancing and rhythmic display at the time. So, these nationalistic construct, these correspond to what was called modern Africa. So, of course when you were referring to modern dance, you know, from a standpoint of an African, for example, dancer whether from Guinea, or Congolese, or Senegal, it depends what we are talking about. Here. Because modernity for the West was really, the birth of the subject. The free individual who has his rights, who has his free consciousness, that’s what it meant to be modern in the West. For Africa, modernity was not having choice. It was being colonized, that's how we entered modernity. The modernity was the one imposed. So, now that Africa is independent then it wants to make and participate in modernity it’s own way, supposedly.

This is why one of the big stance I had about contemporaneity, when we talk about contemporaneity, which, whose contemporaneity are we talking about? Who says that to be contemporary is to be a westerner? That was always for me, totally, I could not accept that from the very beginning that, okay, you are supposed to be a contemporary dancer, yeah okay fine, yeah but what you're doing is tradition, how do you know? What tradition are you referring to when you look at me, what do you see that is traditional? How much do you know of my tradition to be able, my tradition thinking that I am, I have access to that tradition myself? How do you know, just because you see that dance seems to be, obviously an African dance of some sort? How do you know it is traditional? So, where are the criteria to assess a traditional characteristic or aesthetic? This is where the gaze becomes very complex, because it multiplies the um, the lies. By which we refer to one another, define ourselves, or supposedly dominate one over, you know, how we impose our views. From whose lie basically, because each society with their own cultures, implying here that a society may have many cultures, but let’s say each society carry on different lies that come from a historical perspective, a class struggle, from an economic power, all of these come into. But when it comes to the other that we represent, everything becomes one and the same. It’s the African tradition, it is the First Nation Culture, it is the Indian Culture. No more nuances, no more history, no more anything. We're just being gazed at, a people who represent a culture, which is really false. Certainly, you want to talk about Africa you talk about traditional Africa. We're talking about many traditions there, of course, and in terms of the aesthetics in music and dance, because it’s true that dance and music are very much related, but it’s not particular to Africa. Certainly India is also a case and even in China we have this connection, a very, very much strong. It was a connection also in the West that it got put in question, the, the modern artist, but this connection is ancient and if you look at the fact in Africa, the idiom, the language is very important because this is how you understand music, because music is based on those tonal languages we talk, the languages, African languages are tonal. Depending on the tone you're using, you mean different things. So, if I say moto it means fire. If I say mot-o, I mean person. But these are the two syllables that are exactly the same, unless I do not pronounce it the same way, a proper way, then I am misunderstood. And that goes in the music and specifically the rhythms, this is our, how the rhythms are being constructed on the tones. It’s very nuanced, it’s very specific, so of course the quantity of rhythms that here are, are incredible and all, every group have their own identity through rhythms and therefore dances. Because they are intricately connected. That's one aspect.

Second aspect is the religious and spiritual aspect that's being talked about so much through our dance, when it comes to African people. We have to remember that African people hardly ever go to war because of religion, you just have to watch their history. It would be for another reason, but not a religious one. Actually, African people have that problem, that, if you have a God fine, it will join mine, your God fine, bring it. So, there is like, a quantity of a, it’s just accepted. The fact that God is God, he's so far from what we are. So far. We cannot understand, we cannot say anything about God, this is the attitude in traditional Africa, and therefore we're dealing with the intermediaries the in-between forces and spirits that connect us to this higher, higher, higher attitude. So, and of course, that is still very much present, you will see it in Brazil, in Cuba, in Haiti and all the Caribbean. All these cultures that were transported from Africa, against their own will, but they survived with this idea of this spirituality that's very much linked to nature, and actually there is a strong connection to the way First Nation people understand their own way of participating in the universe, spiritually and physically, and everything else. It’s precisely the importance of nature. So this is why dance, the way it developed in Africa is very much connected also to this understanding of the connection of the human being with nature, his participation in it and the necessity for this human being who has a consciousness, to mark, encode his presence in nature. So that nature, in return, can provide him more of what he wants, what he needs. And there comes the force, the strength of the ritualistic attitude in Africa, when it comes to the education of a human being. So, the ritual serves that purpose. So, when we look at this of course, and we're going to talk about the gaze. Now, you have to understand that everything that was seen in Africa, a lot of it was totally unapproachable. How, how would a westerner understand, for example, the ritualistic aspect and the way, um, those ritualistic, this ritualistic knowledge is encoded in people, from a westerner point of view, what access did they have to this reality from what stand point? Yes, they were powerful, yes they were dominating, they were the colonizer, but the African people also had means to basically hide and not reveal, even though those fetishes were burned, everything, even though they were forced to stop polygamy, and baptize and become Christian, they still retain, not just retain, they made a point of hiding, not just- it’s not a question. I don't like the term -preserving because it’s almost like you're totally dead. There was a fight, there was a struggle in Africa, there was strong resistance through dances, but at the same time there was an abandonment and a failure from government in Africa to protect this. There was some security that dance, music- this is one thing the white person cannot teach us. So we're not going to fight for that, we're going to get something else.

H: Interesting.

Z: So, of course, as a result of this there is a neglect of all these cultural aspects. Strong neglect of these cultural aspect, they're left to the people, it’s those people that are being also colonized now by their own after the new independent Africa, they're being colonized by their own people because this is what post-colonialism is, basically, is being colonized by the African people themselves who are still working with their counterparts in the western countries still very much today. We just have to see what is going on with France, and Africa, and USA the world in Africa, so politics have a in role in it, in the way things are happening, culturally speaking in Africa, for example. Hari and I were talking yesterday about passport dancers. Telling him that a lot of the contemporary African dance today is passport dance. Dance the way they want us to dance and you will get your passport to go to France, or to Canada, or to wherever, you know? Basically, we learned to do that a long time ago, it’s not a problem, we're dancers, we can do a lot of things with dance, no problem. We have no fear when it comes to dance. If I may say so. Of course, this dance will be transported you know, in a certain way. One may say:

"Okay, this is how things happen, this is how things evolve, this is how we get to contemporaneity, this how we are becoming contemporary dancers. We're joining in this big concept of nations, of modern nations whether we were colonized or not. We're today a part of all this huge concert, of modern nations. And we'll do what we have to do to join in with the modern concert and this nation and of expressions. "

Cultural expressions, which is basically, is what art is about, still, nevertheless and uh, but what shall we say now, it is to be called to do contemporary African dance or even African dance, of course, this was put under the table on various occasions in Africa, in Canada, in Europe, in USA wherever I go:

“Why do you do African?

“Why do you call it African dance?”

It doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense in Africa, there's no African dance as such. There's not even Congolese or Senegalese dance, it doesn't exist. There is Bamika* dance, there is Kongo dance, there is, I can name, name, name, non-stop, but there is no such thing as Senegalese or Malian dance? Cause for example Congo, Congo which is now, there are two Congos, for some of you who don't know. There's the French, ex-French Congo and there is the ex-Belgian Congo, the ex-Belgian Congo the one of Mobutu, the main dictator and the one of the French Congo, which is where I am coming from which was the Socialist Congo and the other one was the Capitalist Congo, those two Congos were one and the same.


It came from the Kingdom of Congo which is part Angola, Gabon, the two Congo's a little bit of central, South Afrique, a little bit of Cameroun. You have people coming from the Kingdom of Congo. So, if I have to talk about Congolese dance, my ethnic group is Kongo with a K, is the Kongo group, which you find in Angola, find in ex-Zaire, you find in Cameroun. So, there the ethnicity has to come back on the map if I have to understand those rhythms and those dances, then I cannot go by nations, I have to go by the ethnic group that was, of course, expanding in different territories and try to understand how it transformed itself, how it moved about. I have to do that kind of study which is a post-colonial study to get back to. So, ethnicity in that sense, has to been seen positively because it refers, it gives us the capacity to understand the story of rhythms if we do go by the ethnic definition of what it is to do African dance. We won't understand some of these aspects and movements. Nevertheless, there is modern Africa, there is urban dance that is a mixture of those traditional dances and the influence of the modern pop world that we live in, everything including, of course, hip hop which is a way to come back to Africa as far as I'm concerned. We're really not totally, you know, there's not a big surprise when we look at hip hop, I mean you're from Africa.


Only that the rhythms are much more simplistic than the ones in Africa, that's about it. But certainly the moves and everything that happens there is no news to an African dancer, it’s just a way of coming back to Africa. So basically, the way you will look at aesthetics, the development of aesthetics, the evolution of the dance and what we bring, um, what we will call contemporary dance in Africa, requires us to look at various, various, aspects, phenomenas of this cultural evolution in Africa and in the world. Because Africa is not just a continent of Africa, there is Africa outside of Africa. You cannot understand America today if you don't understand the slave trade and how America was built around it. You know, I remember talking to an interviewer who said:

"Zab, it might be fantastic to you," at the FIND Festival that I was invited, finally, as a contemporary dancer for a piece that was named traditional and become contemporary in a few years for those people who called me. And I performed at the FIND Festival and an interviewer, a journalist said, "You must be happy Zab, that finally that the Western world is paying attention to Africa."

And I said, “Oh no, it has been paying attention for quite a while excuse me.”

And, "Oh yeah, but you know, Africa is so far. To think that now we have access to Africa."

Africa is not far. We've been in your backyard all the time. I'm right here, but there's been people before me. And actually when I came here, I just came to meet my ancestors, some of those who came before me, so I did not arrive with the impression that I was the total stranger and that I was going to come on a continent that didn't know nothing about me. Maybe it pretended, maybe that’s the way they looked at me, but that is not the way I looked at these people living here. I was connected already by who I was. So you see, it’s all depending on, where do you situate yourself? Either you accept to be defined by the gaze or you reverse the whole thing. And when you reverse the whole thing, you come into trouble because the people who are usually put in the position of gazing at you now are being gazed. And I remember writing that to one of the art councils saying, stop looking at me as the other and just try to remember that you could be the other. So, trying to reverse in order to do what? This is just subversive. It’s an attempt to basically, let’s look at one another. Now, if you give me permission to look at you the way you will look at me, so where is the dialogue going to start? At which level, when are we going to start, where are we going to meet. At what point are we going to be able to really look at one another accepting that we may be another for this other. In both ways. As we were saying also yesterday, when I was talking about the fact of traveling in the world. This is also a good example for the way the gaze works. If a western, and I would say not even a western, but a white person, that is more significant. A white person's traveling in the world, they are in their place in the world wherever they go. They can choose to go wherever they want, they’re in their place. Now reverse it. An African, an Asian trying to decide to travel in the world the way the white person would travel?

Traveling in Cancun

It would be much more difficult. They are not in their place. Because, this is the result of course, of historical domination, this is a fact of history. It is a fact of history and it is implanted in various aspect of these societies that were conquered, historically speaking. And that today are independent, certainly. But still have to deal with this post- colonial gaze that is very much there. And that has a very strong effect on the way we're going to understand the evolution of aesthetics. For example, as for, so called African dance or black dance. This is for here, because black dance, means even less in Africa. You can't come in Africa and talk about black dance, but if you're in America it means something but not in Africa. Not even African dance, it’s still a joke, but now they know, they know that, okay, they have this new thing those contemporary dancers they’re doing African dancing so we'll accept that, you know. So just, this move from black dance, African dance, what does it mean? Why did I keep the terminology when people are attacking me constantly, saying:

"Why don't you call yourself just a contemporary dancer?"

I say, “It’s political. It’s political I keep African dance here, so I keep the dialogue going on.” So, I keep people talking about it.

Whether, “Where do you situate yourself Zab?”

I will answer, “Let me find out.”

Let me find, you know, my own time. I will recapture the time that was taken away, that keeps being taken away because we're talking about time and history, the capacity to exist in your own time. So, what does it mean specific to somebody who deals with rhythms constantly. My whole aesthetic approach is about time. Performance and time. So, I'm switching on directly to the idea of aesthetics and what is driving us, when we are aware as an artist, I am aware of all these aspect of the gaze. What effect is it going to have on my practice? Do I decide that I don't care, that I'm a free artist, that I am capable of being, as you were saying. Is this something I can, I have this advantage of being a free artist that can decide what she wants to be? And how free I am? And how am I going to act upon that freedom in creating, am I totally, um, do I have to disregard them say, like, I've heard some people say I'm a contemporary artist, I am busy with my own attempt to do work or am I going to take into account the fact that, yes, I'm free to be aware of how curt I am also. Between those different gazes, and what shall I do about it, and what is it to be subversive in your art? Do I need to be subversive, do I need to ignore this? What does it mean to ignore something? A gaze? And how do you do that on stage? How do you produce, what type of work do you produce? You know? Why do you still have drums on your stage? I have drums still on my stage. It would be easier for me to take away the drums, maybe use cassettes, like those contemporary African dancers are doing. When I go to Africa, I am the one who is like, out of place for the Africans, because she still has drums onstage. And she's doing so called, contemporary dance. What is she doing with those drums? It’s still a shocking device onstage to have those drums, especially traditional drums. Powerful, tall traditional drums. Why are they still there? Why don't I use just music? And so on, and so on. There's many, many aspect that we may be able to tackle and talk about later on in terms of artistic practice.

S: Um, I'd like to bring us back to what you said, Zab, about, you mentioned modernity and the birth of the subject and this, of course, modernity is a European construct, it comes out of that. And yet we speak from the standpoint of the subject without ever naming it as, an event as a, development out of a specific culture, we take it for granted. When you talk about looking at the body, that comes from the language of the subject and that comes from a certain time in history.

Z: Exactly.

S: So, um, this notion of the gaze, the subjective gaze, is, comes from a specific culture and I guess my question is, if we are to, um, engage with the possibilities of other ways of experiencing and transmitting art, how do we subvert the, the gaze. In which the role, there is a subject that gazes and inherent in that, when you have a subject there is an object. How do we subvert that power dynamic of the subject looking at the object? If you are the object, on stage, how do you, um, take back or how do you, take, do you turn it around, I look at you then I look at you as, in return. And Kaija, this morning you said you felt outrage at the um, suggestion that you didn't feel outraged. And for me, yes, it’s the violence of me seeing you saying you don't feel outraged, because it’s a political privilege of being white. You can construct a world where you don't, you can construct a notion of freedom of the body. You can construct an idea in a space where you are not seen by people.

K: I think it’s a little more complicated than that (laughter).

S: Because, because the language we use is you as a subject, no one sees you. Rarely do they see you.

K: That isn't my experience in life.

Z: Yeah, but then this experience that you do not have is, how much are you able to convey that to those who think that they are not being seen? I'm thinking of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the Urban Bush Woman, the USA, Florida UN conference, on that again.

Urban Bush Woman

And she's saying, when she's uh, USA citizen she's doing contemporary Afro American contemporary dance. And she's telling me:

"You know Zab, we are the cultural people here, we're the culture specific in the USA. The white American has no culture. The ones who are carrying culture, who are dealing with culture, who are upset with culture, outraged with culture, need to be, have a culture are the Afro-Americans, you know, they are fighting. Or the, the Mexicans all the others have to have a culture but the white American, he represents the norm."

So when you become the norm, of course, you become a culture with no colour, you become a norm, an unseen one. But when you say it’s more complex, of course things is more complex for everyone. To be a human is complex. So that, you're perfectly aware, so you may be in a dominant position and still go through complexities. Of what it is to be a human, caught in a struggle of living in a society where there is inequalities, there is class struggle, there is all sorts of things to be really upset about, definitely. But this capacity of perceiving these complexities are still the ones that establish a norm upon the others. You have a capacity that the others, if they do have this capacity is not recognized at the same level. It is not taken into account, it does not appear on the debate. It doesn't have the terminology for it. It doesn't have, it is not seen, it is not visible. It is framed by categories coming from your perception of the complexities, so the question is not, to say that, like you say it's more complex, certainly, but still. When we use the term white, we're referring to the capacity that this term has to erase complexities, for us. We cannot access these complexities. We become non-complex because we're gazed and we're seen as easily identifiable. A culture, it’s black, it’s this, it’s Asian dance, it’s, it’s, something that is very general, homogenized presented as one thing that is easily accessible. Once we introduce complexities, it becomes a problem. Historical complexities, cultural definitions, all of this becomes complex because usually then, you live protected by the norm you are not so much bothered by these complexities.

K: As a person, um, Russian, Finnish and Mongolian heritage I don't feel that I am a representative of the white race and I feel, I admit I feel, it’s very emotionally complex for me when I'm put in the position of being white. So, this isn't an easy topic or an easy position for me.

H: I see.

K: And I also prefer to discuss, and more personally, I'm not, I don't want to speak in a larger political way. That's not the way that I work as a writer, it’s not the way that I approach my art or my existence. So, I'm only speaking for myself. And what I enjoyed about yesterday was that you had the privilege of telling us your specific stories, and I found that extremely interesting, and I have so many questions that I would ask each, three of you, in terms of your individual stories. Um, so it’s very complex for me then to be into the position of this erased white person that-

S: Yes! Yes! See that's precisely!

Z: That's exactly what it’s about (laughter)!

K: I don't see why it's here in our discussion.

S: Because-

Z: Because there is never any place where you can do it!

S: That's right!

Z: It is forbidden!

H: It's a safe environment, yeah.

Z: It’s forbidden, you can never can never discuss this. You can actually never discuss it.

K: But we're not discussing it if you put me in this other place and I'm-

Z: I'm not putting you in this other place. We're talking about terminologies. White. If you see yourself as white, that's your problem. I could, I can be, if I go to Africa I can be seen as white, by the way. So, it’s your problem, you can see yourself as white or black. Or belong to the First Nation people. I have learned to associate myself to whoever needs this solidarity, so I have no problem with that. But what I mean is, when you talk about white race, I do not talk about white race. I talk about the white. It's the representation of the white, it's what the white means, it's a category. It is a category of power in the world. Whether you are white race, as you mean, to me race is a total invention, it doesn't mean a thing, okay? You have white skin. Now, whether white skin refers to white race, I have no idea, I don't know what race is about. I don't know what the skin refers to. I never knew. And my mother is so-called white and my father is so-called black. So, when I was very young:

"How could you love them both the same?"

H: Hmmmm.

Z: That was what I went through and I was two years old listening to that. So the, the colour is really not my problem. It is the dominant, the category of domination that is associated to a so-called colour, whatever it means, you know. So, if you see yourself being, that is for you to understand, but we’re talking at a category that seems to be a very, uh, useful, and seems to have power, operates at different levels constantly whether you, and suddenly, when we talk about art and aesthetics, it’s still working that way. So, we have to discuss that and criticize that.

K: I, yeah, okay. I'm not sure that talking in categories is constructive. I guess I-

Z: But we need to examine those categories and see how valid they are, or not, and how do they work. For some of us, if you're free from those categories, great for you. Maybe some of us are not so free from it. Maybe we still have to work with those categories and still be confronted with them constantly whether we like it or not.

S: To be confronted by that is violent. And to, to try, to have the freedom to disassociate yourself from that violence is a privilege. That's what I'm saying.

Z: Yeah.

S: I don't have the privilege of um, going through an entire day where I can just be personal, I can just be me. At some point I have to encounter the fact that I am a visible minority and it’s always a battle, it’s always a tension between me as a human being and me as representing something. By the, the market place by the, the power structure. We are not free of power, we are all in this place.

D: I think it’s a privilege, that is not indicative of any kind of moral decision or ethical decision, it’s a, you know, it's just a fact that the world is now based in nation state and nation states are a European development that has become hugely successful, so the intrinsic structure of the world is, is white. Because that's where it came from, that's the reality. And when you're an artist, modern day artist, if you want to engage in a way that is seen by your peers that is possibly supported, you are, you’re intrinsically tied up with the nation state. Cause art serves the nation state. So, it’s an intrinsically white system as well. So the, it’s not a, I don't think it's a thing you have to be sorry about. I'm not sorry about being white and the privileges that I experience when I travel the world because I am white, I get away with a lot of stuff that I wouldn't get away with if I was black, for sure. Or of a darker colour, so I don't feel at all sorry about that, because-

S: Because-

D: I just don’t, but I do recognize it, it’s a systematic reality, it’s not, it’s not forever, it’s the systematic reality of the last three hundred years.

Z: Exactly.

D: So, so that's where I am today and that's, when I'm an artist, I'm still engaged with those systems that are white. They still, I'm still an artist and I have to engage with those systems, uh, but those systems are white. So, I do have a particular relationship to them because of my skin colour.

P2: Some of the discussion just, that it’s just been fascinating to me, that it’s raised in me that fact that over the last three hundred years or whatever it is, we live in a eurocentric world and I, I can't remember the author but I recently read a book by a fellow who said:

"What if, it were an afrocentric world or an indocentric world, why is it eurocentric, why, what happened, what were the conditions that gave all the power to Europe?"

D: Guns, germs and steel (laughter).

P2: Anyway that’s just ah, it is what it is, the reality of what, who we are is that we're totally eurocentric and we're trying to battle that all the time. For, ah, I would think, I don't know.

S: I, I don't see it as a battle. I see it as what, for me, it is coming to terms with the violence in our lives. And for me, and then it’s as an artist I transform that violence. So, yesterday Anis, you talked about um, the dancer who feels the outrage of being under the gaze of the King. And how that outrage gets turned into shakti, gets turned into rasa. Can you just remind us of that alchemical process of um, encountering-

D: We have five minutes.

S: In five minutes (laughter), or maybe its a sign that we can have, because that’s what I want to come back to. It’s not about trying to create an ideal where there is no violence in our lives, where we can all pretend that we're free because we're not. And we can all pretend that nobody looks at us and we can have, you know-

A: This is very simple, the answer is this. You cannot run away from living under a category. Period. Okay? So, because you have to survive, and the way you survive is to survive by being acknowledged by those whom you are dependent on to survive. Or where you are supposed to be coming from, so because of that, therefore, there are consistent challenge that you go through, which of course contributes to the rupture of your own sense of being and genuinely wanting to be different but you can't, so you continuously negotiate and that happens all over. So, I'm listening to this very fascination because I say:

"Oh my god."

It’s very interesting. You know the centre of the world, I mean the whole notion of the centre of the world, you know. So, Canada, Canadian centre of the world, white eurocentric centre of the world, and then three quarter of the world isn't interested in what we are talking about. I mean, this is probably one of those rare moments in life, ever since I left high school that I'm getting back to this being reminded of. And I feel amazing to share with you that, oh perhaps I would be talking like this too, if I had been an artist living here. As opposed to, you know what I am trying to say?

H: It’s contextual.

A: Yes, and but, but then, yet, yet, you have to subscribe to the categorical space, because that's how it is. I mean, Zab, you had a very good example. You're transcribing yourself into that context, context of the contemporary and then the African as being the key, the signifier of the contemporary nuance, it also, you are attached to it because you have reasons for it. And, and that's what I think it is all about. Even if I am a classical dancer, in a context of the best dancer in the palace, a master teacher, I still cannot, and this is very true, the best master teachers who learn in Bali, in Java, in Cambodia, in Thailand, cannot do whatever they feel like doing because they still have to subscribe to that category that is placed upon them as a national artist. You know, that's why I say, I'm, I'm looking at the camera over in the corner (laughter) because when I go back to my country, when I speak, as a citizen of my country, in, in, where my county folk will look at me as so in so, they look at me different and as a total different person and I have to play different to them, because, you know why? I have to subscribe to that category, and yet, you know in having to subscribe to that, I'm continuously in a state of violence. So how that place is. I write when I could, I say when I could and I cannot get out of that place and sit somewhere else. I think artist, we negotiate that space all the time. So again, this is again going back to the fire, that I do understand when people seems that, you know, being an artist is Zen, is center, I mean there is a lot of bullshit and you have to really imagine yourself, the moment you think of something is because there was something that has hit you somewhere. And that makes you fly across five yards or twenty feet across. And that sense of violence, of rupture is so important. And of all the people I spoke in Asia, that I have been traveling back and forth, even to the great Master teacher in India, you can notice this, you can ask so much the person can actually refuse to teach you, because if they do, then, that category will shift. And in that shift they are no more, no more in a space where they could survive as an artist.

J: What you're talking about is violence as motion, as a kind of force that it can, you know palmotion*. I think what Zab's, or maybe what's being brought up is a kind of violence that remains, that doesn't have an outlet for the motion.

Z: Yes, it does.

S: Yes, yes.

Z: It's the same. Only put in another context. That's all. It's, it's the same because ah, when you say you do not come out with this, this cut this violence. No, we have created, I mean if I have to talk about dance coming from Africa, isn't it what they say? That the black people survive because they had their dance? Dance was a curse, actually, for the black people. What if they want good dancers (laugh) and musicians? In America? It was a curse. I'm teaching young people coming from the Caribbean, Guadaloupe and they're twenty-five, twenty-five years old. They're raised in the French, because Guadaloupe's French, okay and yet is the Caribbean, but it's French officially, okay. And what did she have to hear all through her childhood from her grandmother?

"Stop moving and jumping, this is how we ended up here (laughter)."

This is the curse, that young black people who, who love to dance, that’s what they have to hear from their family, that's how we ended up here. Jumping and ah, as slaves of course. So, this curse is turned, has turned about because now you know, the popular music that is so basically influenced by, by the music of black Africa has totally contaminated pop music all over the world. So, it is capable of moving and constantly producing what it needs to express itself. So this violence, yes, is movement but because it is movement it is not necessary to deny precisely the rage that is contained in it because it is a specific one. The fact that it moves you, in other, should make us forget about what kind of movement are we talking about? We're dancers, we're supposed to identify, which movement brought me there? Which movement brought me there? What exactly is contained in that gesture of mine that I produced? What is the importance of this gesture? Because we carry in our forms that are incredibly full of gestures. Indian dance, so-called African dance is full of those gestures if I have to compare to, to western dance, I find that it’s the gestures are, there's plenty of them. You know? So, what are those gestures? What are the meanings? How important are they? Maybe we should become contemporary Western style and get rid of those gestures, and become pedestrian type of dance, but then we do have pedestrian too, in Africa. So, are they walking differently? So, what are these importance of the, you know all of these issues have to deal with violent moves.

H: When I feel-

Z: Throughout history and cultures. Only we are the carrier. Maybe we are the voices who are supposed to talk about this violence because history puts us in that position and maybe other people feel that they do not have to carry around there, uh, these violence and express it, and voice it. Maybe, they don't feel it’s necessary. Maybe they are in another case and feeling it differently, but I'm not so sure, it depends. It depends on our capacity to see in the other one, the possibility of somebody who is like you. How much do we have this possibility of doing that. Isn't this the heart of the question? And also at the heart of this question is the performer and who's looking at them.

S: Yes.

Z: The spectator.

S: Ultimately, you know, it comes down to the violence of performing.

Z: Of performing.

S: Under the gaze.

H: I think as dance artists we constantly have to become political.

S: Absolutely.

H: I think we cannot afford to shun, we cannot afford to say we're transnational or we are transcendent upon, for pre-conceived labels and stereotypes. It’s interrogating and negotiating, and re-interrogating those comfort zones and those historical ruptures, which gives richness to what we do.

S: Yes.

K: Hari, you started as a Bharatanatyam dancer?

H: No I didn't. I started as a Kathakali dancer, my father is a Kathakali dancer. Dance theatre.


K: And then, I meant when you started in terms of your scholarly background and your dance background.

H: Yes, uh-

K: You were a dancer first and then a scholar?

H: I was dancer first and then a scholar, I was a speech pathologist for the longest time and then I became a dance scholar.

K: Oh, okay.

H: Later in my life.

K: I know people want to break for lunch, but I'm quite fascinated by how the things that you have discovered, how that affects your relationship with the art form that-

H: It constantly, it, it constantly, um ah, re-evaluates models of structure and aesthetics. And like, something Zab said. You take away the drums you become contemporary. You take away the flowers and the belt, you become contemporary.

K: Right, yeah.

H: Where are those signals? Or those cultural kind of, ah, memory that signifies it to be less than or more than or global. It's a constant struggle. And my scholarship is from a new place, a new space. Going back in time and, um, being close with that indigenous community and using that as my spring board to write a new historical chapter, and using that as my springboard for my contemporary work and thought. Yeah.

K: Interesting.

S: Great, we'll break there for lunch.

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