Toni Stuart met me from the airport as I have learnt is the tradition and custom in South Africa. She drops me home to my new pad, a gated home in Observatory where many friends have suggested I stay. We are greeted by a lovely woman called Sweetness and given the tour of my home, and we part, with the plan to meet the following day for our Transcending History Healing Of Memories Tour the next day. We have planned the tour as part of the experience of making this piece about our identity which began almost a year ago.
I met Toni Stuart, or rather first saw her at Sadler’s Wells, where I was invited by Eva Martinez to watch Dotdotdot Dance’s Wild Card. Toni recited a poem and the tears fell down my face as I felt so connected to every experience she was reciting. I wrote to her and she sent me the poems to read. One year later, I began to realise that I must work with those poem, and I put together a funding application which was successful to R&D Papyllon. I created an aerial and dance piece which I shared at Dance City, but it still felt that the work was unresolved or unfinished, and so we began the process of turning this piece into a duet. As we walked into a beautiful circus space in Stellenbosch on Monday morning, again I felt such gratitude at this opportunity to create this work and to share this experience with such a talented artist.
We began with words… sharing our experiences as mixed people who are white passing… our guilts, our wishes for our children (to know their ancestry), our hopes for the future, our past experiences, our mothers. There were tears, there were silences and there lots of similarities across continents. It was fascinating to learn about the complexities of race in South Africa and to share experiences that in the UK I almost never talk about.
Over the week, we truly dived in: we ate together, we stayed together, we walked at sunset, we warmed up and we meditated. By Friday, aching and super tired, we had the framework of a twenty minute duet using dance, text, singing and aerial.
Here is what we have learnt after our first week:
I am complete (Ella means Complete) Toni is worthy of praise (Toni means worthy of praise).
The creative tension being so high meant we made our best work.
We can hold ourselves through difficult things.
Naming the uncomfortable things means we can work with them and grow our capacity to hold space for more of ourselves.
We have made an honest and vulnerable piece of work that is scary and powerful.
We have also created a dope working environment and a beautiful friendship.
We hope that our audience will be able to look at all the parts we turn away from so they can realise they are already whole, just as we have in this rehearsal process.
Thank you to the Artist International Development Fund supported by Arts Council of England and British Council for this opportunity.
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