I travelled from Joburg where I had been visiting friends and teaching to arrive in Capetown on the 16th August. Toni Stuart met me from the airport (In South Africa, you are always taken care of: as a guest: you are treated so well and with such warm heartedness). Somehow when Toni meets me it feels like we have known each other for years, but actually I had met Toni Stuart
only once before: I 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 poems, and I put together a funding application to Arts Council of England, which was successful and meant we met on skype. I created a 20 minute aerial and dance piece which I shared at Dance City, and when I showed it to Toni, we began to imagine it as a duet, for us both to research and heal our stories around this topic.
The home which I stayed in was an Air BnB rent: a gated home in Observatory owned by an Italian chef. We are greeted by a lovely woman called Sweetness. I instantly find my self wondering: why is my home gated, and with an alarm, and with a gate/cage across the front door: what do I need to be afraid of? I had a gate/cage in my home in Leeds, but this feels immense… a bit like I am moving in to a prison. Just like Brazil, this seems to me to really separate and divide people, and it stays with me, this feeling that fear is in the fore front of people’s thinking: even more so when I am woken by alarms going off in the middle of the night two nights in a row.
I meet Toni and many of her beautiful friends the following day for our Healing Of Memories Tour which we have planned as part of the journey making this piece about our identity and ancestry. Lucelle Campbell, is a historian who was sensitised to the damage associated with a one-sided narrative during the time she spent working at Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Drawing on information collected during her 10 years working in museums and as a historian, she began to research her own ancestry and created the Transcending History Tours. She takes visitors to museums and sites of memory, to offer a fresh, contemporary perspective on the lives of slaves and the Khoisan
people who originally lived on these lands, and to affirm the contribution that they made to the social, economic, political and cultural life of Cape Town. This was not just a tour, but treading on ancestral ground, healing, light work. It was truly an experience I will never forget along with the very special collection of creatives and healing women on the tour (read more here
On Monday morning, we began working. We drove together to our rehearsal space talking all the way about the rituals we would like to create during this process, and arrived in a beautiful circus venue. I feel 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.
Tickets for the show: