2016 Oct. 12: The dancer’s psyche

Before, during and after the performance at FotoFocus 2016

Performances take their own form. The space, atmosphere and musicality usually influence the entire performance and movement vocabulary.
The 8th October performance at the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA was a statement of voices and an act of rebellion. The performance broke down the conventional ways of a photography exhibition, by bringing the images to life.

A few moments before walking into the exhibition area, there was some confusion with the program. While the audience waited for something else to happen, Zanele Muholi saw this opportunity and capitalized on it. Instead of waiting for technical glitches to be addressed she staged a performance. Andiswa Dlamini, Sebenzile Langa and myself had a few minutes to change and put on the performance we had prepared.


Dancer freed… Photos by Lerato Dumse (2016)

I looked around and saw eager faces and a curious audience as we walked into the exhibition area where another performance by Andiswa, our spoken word artist had already commenced. The mood was already set; we captured the audience with the costumes and an abrupt walk in.

My mind kept replaying the injustices of the world towards LGBTI+ people, as well as the effects of the color of my skin and the dawning of the dark lioness. We had to make a lasting impression, a statement of rebellion against these injustices. The best way was through a daunting and visually interesting performance. My thoughts were to speak the truth, put faces into the images and speak without fear. The dark lioness awoke and the audience was shaken.

Muholi had yet again managed to do what many visual activists have not done. She gave her work a voice, music and movement.

The next performance was in a formal theatrical setting at the Harriet Tubman Theater in the National Underground Railroad Center. This performance was not an ambush or an abrupt presentation of the work. The audience was prepared and the performers were prepared.

This performance for myself was a ‘rubber stamp’ performance where I got a chance to introduce myself as a subject of Muholi’s work. It had moments of grace and moments of chaos. These were not just moments or beautiful dance movements. They were statements of the phases I have been through and the phases we have been through as LGBTI+ people at large. Our struggles might not be the same, but they have similarities. Those were the gasps and heavy sighs that flooded my mind as I moved to the melodic sound of the Saxophone, played by Sebenzile.



Article by Thobeka Bhengu, performer at FotoFocus 2016


Related link

2016 Oct. 20:  FotoFocus Personae meets Saxophonist




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