Dancing an African message

Following its run up for its 60th anniversary that is scheduled to be celebrated next  year, Goethe Institute invited Sello Pesa, a forty year old South African dancer, choreographer and teacher to organize a dance workshop with twenty dancers chosen by Mintesenot Getachew and Adugna Dance’s Addisu Demissie Kifle, co-organizers of the workshop.
Sello Pesa, reflects a mix of interest; contemporary, traditional and vernacular dance forms.  Capital’s Pawlos Belete talked to the performer who has transformed himself from a street dancer to a professional. He also spoke about his interest in African native dances and other social cultures. Originally from Soweto where the black township struggle against apartheid began, Pesa has unforgettable memories growing up during that time.

Sello will be in Addis till 23rd December 2011.
Capital:  Who is Sello Pesa?
Sello Pesa:
I am a dancer, choreographer, and a teacher. I am South African. I have a dance and choreography company called Insuana which means coming from the sun in Zulu language.  I teach almost every where in Africa and sometimes outside the continent.  The African experience particularly with regard to social issues like the struggle of women in a male dominated society really influences my work.  The issue I focus on depends on what city or country I am in but most of my work centers on contemporary African issues.  I want to measure my standards on African standards as opposed to imported ones. That is what I am, where I am and what I am doing basically. And I am trying to make sense by doing research mostly about these issues.
Capital: How long have you been practicing your art?
Pesa:
I am now 40 years old. I have been working in performance for 27 of those years.  I began dancing early in my childhood. I studied in England at a school called Rotterdam Contemporary Dance School which works with the University of Leeds. I studied Ballet Dance, Contemporary, Jazz, Composition and Choreography. When I finished, I collaborated with a French choreographer. I then worked as an artist in residence in Durham North Carolina, USA at the American Dance Festival. There were hundreds of classes there, for example, you could find seven different types of ballet classes there.
Capital: What catches your attention in Africa in your bid to express it through dance?
Pesa:
Well, I think, Africa is a rich place in terms of dance. And also heavily lauded in Europe. One has to realize that African dance is so much. It depends on what context you want to put it and do it. Do you want to put it for a party, celebration, commercial, or religion? It depends on the individual’s taste. There are such a wide range of options there. My interest is more of a theater, performance art, visual art and understanding how these things can feed into each other.  For example, the mask that people put on their face when they celebrate and dance, it is visual. But it has a dance as well. So, I am trying to make sense with all of those things to unpack them and try to really find my own way; the way I perceive it, the way I experience it or the way I look at it to make sense out of it.
Capital: Your home town Soweto was a place where the black township’s struggle against apartheid began. Does that memory of childhood have an impact on your work?
Pesa:
It depends on the project and also where I am in life. My personal mood at present is more inclined to life in general. So, it depends on where you are at that time in life. That is how your experience influences in the things you do in life. I was a very small kid at the time about five years old, I think, during those times of riots, tear gas and tossing were experiences you cannot forget. It is part of me and it makes me look at things differently, how to appreciate other things or be hard on other things because of those childhood experiences.
Capital: Now your dancing has brought you to Ethiopia for the first time. What do you want to do while you are here?
Pesa:
I was really thinking a lot. I was asking myself what I want really to produce here in Ethiopia in the few days of my stay. But, then a very important idea came to my head. Yes as much as I am part of this work and doing things like this, maybe the best way is to find Ethiopian dancers and ask them what the most important issues in their lives are; about Ethiopia, about art or the industry in general. And this is what we are trying to do in the few days to show a little bit of our effort in progress. Instead of me coming from South Africa and imposing my imported idea; I have ask what their ideas here in Ethiopia are. Then we start to talk about it and discuss issues around and start to find one idea that we think is common for all of us. We are still talking about things and issues in the continent.
Why do we have to go and learn other techniques of dancing outside Africa when we have our own style here? Is it necessary, do we still need to go out of Africa and how can we get better work here, how can we get paid more here, how we can convince our governments to pay us more, how can sustainable funding be found and funded for work like this? So, we are trying to brainstorm in such kind of conversations so far and slowly transforming it to gender issues. Are we treating our women in the same way as our ancestors? What is the difference in South Africa and here in that respect? We are dealing with all these social issues. And what are their ideals about dance or what is dance for them? We are trying to put these social puzzles in to context of workable ideas. We are generally working to have a common voice at the end of the day. That is all about our performance workshop so far.