Female identity and the way it’s generally represented and objectified, often through subtle if not direct sexualised subjugation, will be highlighted by a thought-provoking dance production, Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown. Choreographed by Rhodes University alumnus, Nadine Joseph, the visceral exploration of what it means to be a woman in a male-focalised world is said to adhere to everything that the award-winning dance producer stands for in her work:
“Creating choreography that intoxicates the mind, provokes the body and unsettles the soul.”
The dilemma of the feminine body politic and how it still serves to satisfy masculine desires in manifold ways, is nothing new of course; but Joseph, as can be expected, brings a refreshing take to an old issue. The boundary-shifting choreographer, acclaimed for edgy productions such as dis.clo.sure and for.GIVEn – both productions received Standard Bank Ovation awards at NAF 2011 and 2013 – is also well-versed in the nuanced, inverting power of femininity. On the surface of things, as Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… initially unfolds, masculinity has the upper hand.
Joseph, however, manages to look beyond the obvious as she peels away layers of femininity by piling them back on again, in a manner of speaking. Joseph’s work has always plumbed the depths of experimentation, evident even in the word-play titles she picks. As such, her productions manage to add meaning through movement. Suffice it to say that her forte is to bring new definition to exhausted discourses through the dynamics of dance. She explains that Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… directly relates to men and women and how the former, through the distorted gaze of desire, adds definition to the existence of women. In this sense, a quote by French intellectual writer Simone de Beauvoir, taken from her book The Second Sex, states: “The woman… knows that when people look at her they do not distinguish her from her appearance; she is judged, respected or desired in relation to how she looks.” Joseph adds that: “Women are always seen in relation to another, or the other, who happens to be men.”
“The concept of Woman/Women/being feminine only exists in relation to this interaction with maleness, and consequently, regardless of the roles that are chosen and continued performances expected of women, femininity appears, disappears and reappears according to the whims of men.”
Joseph’s ability as a choreographer to debunk difficult topics, is further evidenced by four fully clothed male performers – Fana Tshabalala, Craig Morris, Thulani Chauke and Daniel Nubian – appearing on stage, their suits gradually stripped away during the performance. The “movement vocabulary” of the male dancers, infused with “a combination of militant and evocative choreographic phrasing”, is one of the strongest points of Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… Joseph though, is not remiss in recognising the important input that several key contributors made to add to the illuminating, laid-bare beauty of her latest production.
- Daniel Nubian, a long-time collaborator of Joseph, composed the score.
- Guy Nelson was responsible for lighting design.
- Jenni-lee Crewe was responsible for stage and costume design.
Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… will be on the main festival at #NAF2016.
Performances are at Alice Mullins:
July 6th @ 8:00pm
There will be a post production discussion with the choreographer and dancers after this performance.
July 7th @ 2pm and 8pm
With thanks to the NAF, UJ Arts & Culture (FADA) and National Arts Council