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COCO Dance Talk 1

We're starting off 2022 with a new feature: articles about dance on our COCO website. The first two are discussions about works from our COCO 2021 show. Here's the first one.

The Sweet Liberation of Spaces
Makayla Peterson

December 17, 2021

15-A k u z u r u -Scrolls between Spaces-2018.jpg

Still from A K U Z U R U's
"Scrolls Between Spaces"

The 2021 COCO Dance Festival commenced online for a second year in a row highlighting contemporary choreographers from the Caribbean region and beyond. Having to attend online again prompted me to think about the current landscape of the dance field, where are we headed, what is the role technology plays in the continued development of the dance field, how has the field shifted and how will it continue to shift into the future? Through interviews with Trinidadian choreographers A K U Z U R U, Amir Hall, and Kieron Sargeant whose works were presented in this year’s festival, I gained insight into their approach to their creative processes during these times, the dance industry of Trinidad and Tobago, their experiences with dance and film, and how they approach and view technology in relation to the dance field in the country. As member of the performative community, I was very interested to hear their first-hand perspective. Some of our conversations centered around the sweetness of being in person, the liberation provided through human connection and navigating spaces both virtual and physical.

Throughout the pandemic, the dance field has shifted to make space for virtual dance practice, teaching, and education. Although very beneficial, Kieron talks about some of the social constructs that one must navigate such as time zones, lack of space, technological glitches, mental health, other people/things that would get in the way when dancing. With the work he created for COCO, his process enabled him to be in person, a wonderful opportunity given the lack of in-person opportunities throughout the pandemic. Although in person, a new restriction to navigate was the masks and lack of visibility of the dancers’ face. What does dancing with a mask change and what does it say to the audience? A K U Z U R U’s work “Scrolls Between Spaces” transcends the audience through time and space and serves as a challenge to the individual to look internally especially during these times. For A K U Z U R U, creating performance art for film is no new feat. As part of her artistic practice, she connects all disciplines to show the power of combination of art forms. The work explores different epochs in geological time showing the immeasurable nature of time; an intriguing concept in today’s climate where we have been living in a pandemic with no clear end in sight.

Art as a healing practice; Art as a means of communication; Art as means of creating a space for a community; Art as a mean of sharing the voice of a community. The driving force of Amir’s artistic practice is the utilization of art as a means of healing. In their work presented at the festival, they are paying homage to Trinidad and Tobago as a space that has a name for people of the queer community. By centering queer voices and stories, they explore themes of identity, desire, and intimacies (or lack thereof due to the pandemic). Amir says “…the privilege and burden of being compelled to do this work”, a statement that when unpacked can be related to by all artists. For Amir dance is a healing practice and to realize the shift in motivation and mindset that exists when you are tired and the question becomes, how do you push through when you are tired?

Kieron, A K U Z U R U, and Amir believe that in-person dance training and performances can never be replaced as there are certain intricacies that can be missed or overlooked during virtual performance and education. The dynamics and visceral response evoked during a live performance do not exist in the same capacity when translated through the screen. The interpersonal relationship created between dancers and audience members are irreplaceable. A K U Z U R U says, “The smell of the work, the texture of the work, the feeling of what the work does for you… can’t be translated on film”. Knowing and examining both the advantages and disadvantages provided by technology, the question becomes what does the future of the field look like and how can artists be supported in their practices?

As the dance world continues to evolve and shift, within Trinidad and Tobago it would be important to create spaces and put people in positions of power to support the arts and foster conversations that enable people to see the value of dance. One idea Kieron suggested was having people who are already involved within the arts community to become a part of the governmental bodies that provide artist funding and resources. He believes that the country needs someone who will push the narrative of artists forward and who understands how to organize such structures that are made for artists by artists. Artists can seek international opportunities such as higher education, funding, fellowships that will provide them with a breadth of knowledge to bring back home to share with others. Through community-building, knowledge sharing and the preservation and proliferation of dance, the field within Trinidad and Tobago will continue to thrive for years to come. Let us continue to find the sweetness within the art form, and relish in the liberation provided by movement in all spaces we occupy.

Makayla Peterson for COCO -Headshot.JPG

Makayla Peterson is the founder and artistic director of Monét Movement Productions: The Collective, and a member of the dance company, Enya Kalia Creations. She is also an editorial and administrative intern  at Black Dance Magazine and the Programme Coordinator at the New York City based, MOVE|NYC|.

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