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 is acclaimed for edgy productions such as dis.clo.sure and for.GIVEn – both productions received Standard Bank Ovation awards at NAF 2011 and 2013 – and 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.
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, refers: “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 exist 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 of Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing…
The “movement vocabulary” of the male dancers, infused with “a combination of militant and evocative choreographic phrasing”, is one of the strongest points of the work.
Contributors to Joseph’s latest production include: Daniel Nubian, a long-time collaborator of Joseph, composed the score; Guy Nelson is responsible for lighting design; and Jenni-lee Crewe is responsible for stage- and costume design.
Looking/Seeing/Being/Disappearing… will be on the main festival at #NAF2016.
Performances are at Alec Mullins at 8 pm on July 6. There will be a post production discussion with the choreographer and dancers after this performance. Other performances will take place at 2 pm and 8 pm on July 7. Tickets at Computicket.