It has been 7 months since I last heard this wonderful statement, “how to tell it”. The first time I heard it, it was quite innocent…a passing statement…a transition into a missing important thought in a speech or lesson. After a while it became so prevalent that even in the absence of the owner, His Excellency Professor Laszlo Felfoldi, we would still put it in our sentences. It had become fun and at times during formal and informal discussions with the ‘owner’ we could accurately foretell its coming, imminent or distant. We would even go as far as to count the number of times it was used in a particular session. The highest we have counted, if am remembering correctly, within a particular study session is 12 (I stand to be corrected). But to me this famous statement of “how to tell it” is indeed a profound statement no matter how much we trivialize it. In our everyday endeavours if someone should ask what you have gained thus far and why you chose this path, regardless the answer, it is preceded by a “how to tell it” (whether you say it out loud or not). How do you tell it? From what point of view does one collate and filter numerous answers to explain succinctly what one communicates eventually? How do you put it to make it sound understandable to the layman? From the words of my dance mentor, Kwaku Manu (aka Odotobiri) he opines that the reason we are in academia is to ‘make knowledge accessible to all’. “We are here to explain or to make “clearer” that which most men and women already know. We are just re-contextualizing and or re-clarifying knowledge to make it accessible for whoever has ears to hear. We simplify”. You may or may not agree with this statement but in its seemingly subjective openness, simplification relies on the poignant question of “how to tell it”. How do we simplify the knowledge we have acquired in academia to make it understandable to our own people? Do we simply relay the information in our program course book/syllabus to a curious person about our specialization? The question remains; how do you tell it? How do we essentialize our field in this competitive academic environment? The answer is itself a heritage to be discussed, dismembered, and reassembled again to validate its existence.
Back home, the challenge becomes how to simplify and reach out to ones colleagues. This is not because you are better than them or because you studied abroad, but by virtue of one’s traditional values that promotes the ideology that you owe your knowledge to your people. The statement “how to tell it” is political on two levels – the personal and the social levels. On the social level simplifying knowledge is problematic and precipitated by political correctness and the problems of translating English to the local lingua. For most of the uneducated Ghanaian hoi polloi, the problems with understanding the current discussions on heritage, whether tangible or intangible hinges on the globalization of the term and the endless conundrum of the English language. The problem with translation from English to one of the myriad local lingos is understandings biggest setback to date. As scholars how do we then reconcile the problems of communication between perhaps, the convention and the people it is trying to reach? How do we put it?
The acquisition of knowledge has been quite vigorous and purposeful with the two years of study on the Choreomundus master program. We have had loads of valuable information given to us within the time of study so much that sometimes it confuses me – I say this with all honesty and am not ashamed. But that is not the issue here. Where ever we find ourselves now, can we be able to titillate our colleagues on the importance of the academic discourse of heritage pertaining to our countries? Can we localise the knowledge we have acquired to make it more meaningful to our colleagues and people back home that are already living the heritage? How do we simplify the knowledge, practices, and heritage? So how do we tell it?
A journey of a thousand miles as said begins with a step and thus awareness creation, re-conceptualization, and recognition could be the steps in the right direction to help answer questions raised above. The realisation of what man and his society considers to be valuable begins with the recognition and the awareness of the potential of the identified as worthy of safeguarding. Hence, identification of the convention serves as a conduit to the recognition, awareness creation and the connectedness of such living expression to stakeholders. To simplify our knowledge back to our people because we owe them this knowledge is to create an awareness of re-conceptualization…that is perhaps how to put it – for in the simplification of telling, our sense of immediacy may become an agency for imposition. Nevertheless, we may tell that the knowledge, practice and heritage are a construct and through this construct living expressions become a venerated production. We as scholars engage in knowledge production that involves epistemological enquiry, hereinto – the re-conceptualization of heritage practice to the hoi polloi (stakeholders) is the reality in their identification. In that respect when the self or community becomes aware and recognizes the heritage, it affirms the construct and processes-making ideology of heritagisation thus making simplification foremost, as an imagined form of community knowledge. ‘Knowledge needs to be framed – given a name, established with provenance and applicability – before it can be “bought or sold” (cf. Napier 2002: 289)’.
Here again I suppose the above enumeration might just be considered as a mere foreboding into the heritage discourse but the question will thus resonate aloud again, - How do we essentialize our field in this competitive academic environment? Can we localise the knowledge we have acquired to make it more meaningful to our colleagues and people back home that are already living the heritage? With that said, I believe to proceed from the identifier in the heritage discourse is to instrumentalize. The process of instrumentalisation requires critical knowledge in investigation, dissemination of scholarly knowledge in the purview of cultural heritage, cultural and international politics, and the academia. If I may be so bold, then, I shall posit that our acquired scholarly ability to essentialize our field may be liken to the instrumentalisation process of making heritage. Thus if “I dance because I am” …whence I conclude… “Can we essentialize our field because we can”? After apotheosizing the fons et origo of … ‘How to tell it’ and or ‘How do we put it’…where is our scholarly Onus probandi?
Review of a physical theatre “Banglamerd”
Under the military junta government, “Banglamerd..The land I do now own” (2013 and restaged in 2015) is the piece of work that challenges existence. Critically discussed about freedom of expression, Ornanong Thaisriwong, the performer provides enough space for the audience to freely think about the deepest issue of our time - The State’s control over freedom of speech and cultural and artistic production.
Ornanong’s solo performance, Banglamerd, makes the use of art for representation and contestation of power and her political standpoint seems to irritate the Thai military government. This results in a close inspection of the production by the military officers as the content of the performance was claimed to be opposed to the government and threatened national security (email: Dakin, 2015). Thailand is not only the case, confrontation between artists and authoritarian states occur in many countries around the world. Just to name a few, one may think of Tania Bruguera’s open mic performance in Havana (Dec 2014), a Thai play “The Wolf Bride” (Oct 2014), Belarus underground theatre group “Belarus Free Theatre” (2005-present), and long censorship in the arts in Egypt.
Banglamerd is another reminder of how politics have a close relationship with the arts as a cultural production. A performance is an acting subject that provokes ideas and urges movements for destabilisation and change within a given social and political context. By using what cultural theorist Stuart Hall (2001) called “symbolic power” through representational practices, the performance addresses the topic which challenges the traditional order and doing so causes fears and worries to the dominated group of people. The sophisticated idea embodied in the work of art is an intellectual representation that forms power which is often considered as “risk” since it can foster social and moral revolution.
Within this atmosphere of fear, many States impose their power to silence and this limitation, control and suppress of the artistic freedom makes it difficult to produce and support a challenging work. According to The Democratic Legitimacy of International Human Rights Law, an unequal access to exercise rights of free speech is a disrespectful treatment and therefore a very undemocratic principle. Also, apart from limiting fundamental human rights, censorship triggers offence, leads to the formation of a violent public, disrupts creative economy, and creates the loss of cultural diversity.
The decision limiting by the State is often implemented without certain policy and legal basis - what constitutes public harm, and what violates laws. In a like manner, it has been reported that Banglamerd’s content offends public order, yet no clear explanation is given on the way such act is performed. Although, the local authorities maintain good relations with the performer including the production team (they are not arrested like the previous play “The Wolf Bride”, and the performance is still running in normal show time), such controlling act grows fears which in one way or another foster a greater system of censorship, pressurize artists, producers, audience, as well as donors to self-censorship – being fearful, avoiding to address, investigate, and support certain social issues. This course of action inevitably restricts the process of creativity, cultural diversity, and transparency policy.
The complexity of the interpretation between artistic freedom of expression versus hate speech is at the heart of this issue. For some, Banglamerd may be understood as a legitimate space for public dispute and therefore harmful or offensive, while others may believe that criticism in art is an essential tool for stimulating intellectual diversity of minds. Consequently, there is a broad spectrum of opinions whether artists should or should not explore issues that are sensitive and potentially bring tension to the society. In other words, it is about the same question of what is the role of art in the society? Should art please the society and doing so, artists should limit or even silence their voices OR should art ask questions and challenge the society by opening conversations? Ornanong’s Banglamerd is facing this same destiny of wide interpretation.
Banglamerd is assumed to have as many positive reviews as disagreements as the very complex argument regarding the artistic freedom and censorship has become a serious issue without clear guidance on law and rights. However, what remains certain is that Ornanong is stepping out from safe space to brave space, pushing the boundaries of her personal and society’s comfort zone.
As exploring the relationship between arts and politics, and observing how free speech has been controlled and by whom, one-sided and the use of power is shown over grounds of reasoning and mutual understanding. To the best of my knowledge and belief, remaining silent, regaining innocence, and forgetting about problems do not encourage diversity of opinions as a means to grow understanding of differences and possibilities. Banglamerd gives me a chance to question myself and the society again which I hope they will not be censored and one day will find authorised spaces for voices: Who benefits from censorship? Can we as audience not choose what we want or do not want to see with our own discretion, regardless of whether or not the art is tasteful? And what is actually wrong about being critical?
Dakin, N., 2015, e-mail, 1 February, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hall, S., (2001) ‘The Spectacle of the Other’, in Wetherell, M.,S., Taylor, & S., J., Yates (ed.)
Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London: SAGE Publications
By: Natasha Chanta-Martin
There has recently been a global shout out to Greeks and the new Greek government. International media claim that the big twist from 40years of family-tree-driven governors to a left wing, young, independent president will make outstanding differences in Greece’s economy, human rights, education etc. Domestic news are bombarded with quotes from the new Ministers and their over-ambitious statements on how they will change our lives for the better: minimum wage will increase, second generation immigrants will finally get citizenship, the school system will change, unaccompanied youth criminals will be monitored by sociologists, each of these statements relating to their own ministry. However, the Ministry of Culture is completely ignored in media and in reality. Not a word has been said about the arts and culture sector of a country which has been declared as the “cradle” of “civilization”. So, what happens to all the dancers, musicians, actors, painters and all the other artists who have been struggling for decades and decades trying to make a living through their art? How can a country prosper in all possible ways when attention (not to mention funding) is not given to one of the most vital and important parts of everyone’s life and education? ART! Having studied at Choreomundus, this introduction seems necessary, because once again the Artist is neglected, and creeps up to the anthropologist’s lap for comfort.
Although (almost) every artist in Greece struggles financially for his/her personal productions, projects, performances and promotion, one specific individual has attempted the outspoken: to create an international festival of experimental percussive dance! One would think that it is a crazy idea trying to do something like this in Greece. Who will attend? Who can afford it? Who will fund it?
Coetáni Experimental Flamenco Festival took place in Athens a day after national elections. It was a 5day intensive festival that consisted of classes, performances, viewings, and discussions. Not only did it take place in Greece, it also experimented with a widely recognised traditional art form, Flamenco. Although, in performance contexts Flamenco has grown tremendously and is experimenting in various directions, Coetáni still is one of a kind for a class-based international festival. Classes included: flamenco dancing for the camera, flamenco couple dancing and more, and the teachers were highly established flamenco performers, such as Leonor Leal, Félix Vásquez, Chloé Brûlé, Marco Varga, who experiment with their art form in different ways. Guest artists included dancers from Canada, Greece, and Austria.
As I have mentioned in my previous Dance Diary, I am one of the founders and organisers of the Athens Tap Jams, another series of community-based events of percussive dance which does not receive any external funding. In a much smaller scale I do relate to what the organiser of Coetáni is going through, and I, therefore, have decided to write this post. Last Tuesday the Athens Tap Jam community hosted a fundraising Tap Jam to help and show its support to Coetáni Experimental Flamenco Festival. Tap dancers, singers, flamenco artists and jazz musicians all jammed together and experimented with their arts, their bodies, their shoes. ATJ is an official sponsor of Coetáni and the money raised at the JAM was added to the festival’s Indiegogo Campaign which you can find here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/coetani-experimental-flamenco-festival.
Coetáni wants to transform Flamenco dancing in Greece, give it another twist, look at it from another angle, EXPERIMENT with it; ‘just like the new government is doing with Greece’, an international news anchor might say! In order for Coetáni to become an annual gathering of important people and flamenco enthusiasts who are willing to experiment, and since it cannot find any domestic funding, it has to look into international funding organisations. In order for its audiovisual promotion to convince outsiders, Coetáni has sought help through crowdfunding in order to create a documentary film of the first ever international experimental flamenco festival in Greece. In support of dance, percussive arts, experimental arts and inaugural brave attempts, I urge you to take a close look at this campaign and to contribute in any way you can.
In dance we trust, because EARTH, without ART is just ‘EH’.
By: Tone H. Erlien
Finally, my project will be realized
For an update many of you maybe are curious knowing about, I can finally say IT`S HAPPENING!
As you all know I was working on applications and project plans during the last year of Choreomundus. Several times I returned to Trondheim for meetings and what I answered you when you asked how it went was; Well, the meeting went good but I have to wait and see if the applications went through. After revising the applications and plans thoroughly, we (Marit Stranden, the director of the now Sff-senter and I) sent in applications for the Trondheim municipality and South-Trøndelag county and the Norwegian Art Council. Mid-December we finally got positive answers of the two allocations. When Christmas came I could finally take a deep breath and be very happy with the thought of starting planning three dance exhibitions. The Norwegian center of folk music and folk dance will own the project, I will be the project manager and we will collaborate the three largest museums of South-Trøndelag and many others in a very exciting and growing network, collaborating about new museology, intangible cultural heritage and DANCE dissemination and practice.
The idea of the project is to make interactive exhibitions with the engagement of the dance communities, dance research network and the main museums in Trondheim. The goal is to produce three rich exhibitions that can serve as a start of permanent dance exhibitions and installations in Trondheim. I can´t wait to start officially 1st of February!
As for now I can say that the first exhibition, named “Dances in Norway” will be presented next spring (2016) at Ringve - the music museum in Trondheim, then one exhibition, “Dance hits the last 100 years” at the Folk museum Sverresborg and last but not least, a motion capture interactive installation as the third exhibition at Rockheim late 2017!
This three-year project will create a blog and a webpage for promoting development, events, the work with the exhibitions, great achievements in addition to post relevant dance research and material. This will also serve as a bank of knowledge material and practical dance tips for the exhibition guests and school classes coming to experience the exhibitions.
I´ll keep you posted!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the association or the MA program.