nora chipaumire’s opening web page states, simply, “Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe and based in New York City, nora chipaumire challenges and embraces stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body.”
Next week we witness, in an unusual staging at the Dance Center, nora’s newest work, a portrait of myself as my
father. In this work, chipaumire ferociously explores ideas of African masculinity as personified in her relationship with her estranged father. Through action involving play, combat, traditional and contemporary dance traditions, chipaumire and her fellow performers—Senegalese dancer Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (also known as Kaolack) and Jamaican-born Shamar Watt—encounter and engage one another under harsh lights.
It is not a work for the faint-hearted or for those who want to keep their idea of dance and dancing in a pretty and lyrical frame. This work is confrontational, loaded and fierce to the eye, to the ear, to the heart. It reminds us that art does so many things in the world, including dare us to be exposed to the struggle that accompanies personal and cultural injustice, misrepresentation and stereotypical diminishments that rob individuals of dignity and true identity.
The title alone is provocative. Why is “father” crossed out? How does a woman engage with, or perhaps even recreate herself, as her (not?) father? What kind of relationship generates both visible and invisible tensions over race, gender and personal identity? What can we read into the exclusive use of lower case? These signals from the title invite us, the viewers, into an uncertain and off-kilter world.
The costuming gives us more clues—boxing gloves, football pads, sacred West African gris-gris (talisman). So does the staging: a makeshift boxing ring. In this work chipaumire gives us many ways of reading the material. Whether you see it as real encounters between real people or as the imagistic, nightmarish struggle of one soul to be freed from the specter of a parent with whom she cannot ultimately connect, the work invites us to find new reserves of clear-eyed bravery in a context of struggle. In today’s world this is a potent invitation.
The way we have staged this work in the Dance Center theater is unusual—your seats are not assigned but rather are offered as general admission. Some seats in the theater are blocked off while seating on the stage beside the boxing ring are added. We encourage you to move around as the performance progresses. Get up, go to a different seat, stand and watch, sit somewhere new. The work invites you to examine it, from different angles and perspectives, and from altering points of view.
We are grateful to nora and her team for bringing this remarkable and challenging work to our space and our community. Courage.
– Bonnie Brooks
Director and Lead Curator, Dance Presenting Series
nora chipaumire • portrait of myself as my
fatherOctober 20, 21 & 22, 2016 • 7:30 p.m. Buy tickets