Coming-of-age rituals are at the center of this powerful, uniquely collaborative poetry dance film from director Fiona Melville and producer/creative director Nathalie Teitler for the Dancing Words project, featuring poet/dancer Kayo Chingonyi, poet/dancer/choreographer Sean Graham, and a composition by Gemma Weekes (who is also an accomplished British writer).
According to the Wikipedia page on the Lovale/Luvale people of Zambia and Angola,
In Zambia the Luvale people hold the ‘Makishi festival’ to mark the end of the ‘kumukanda’ (or ‘initiation’). Every 5 years or so, boys from the same age group (young teenagers) are taken into the bush for 1–2 months where they undergo several rites of passage into manhood. These involve learning certain survival skills, learning about women and how to be a good husband, learning about fatherhood, and also they are circumcised. The Luvale consider uncircumcised men to be dirty or unhygienic. It is said that in some very rural areas where the kumukanda is maintained in its strictest traditional sense that if a woman is to pass by the boy’s ‘bushcamp’ whilst they are undergoing kumukanda then she must be punished, even killed. To celebrate the boys’ completion of the kumukanda the Makishi festival welcomes them back to the village as men.
The latest film in the Dancing Words project directed by Fiona Melville (with creative direction from Nathalie Teitler) pairs poet Malika Booker and dancer/choreographer Leon Rose. Here’s the description from the project website:
Sweet Liquor is a collaboration between renowned black British poet, Malika Booker and dancer/choreographer Leon Rose. The poem is taken from Booker’s prize winning collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree Press) and explores the world of the soca fete. It tells the story of a young Caribbean soldier, recently returned from war with psychological scars, who finds out that he has been re-drafted.
The piece explores a dance-poetry collaboration in which the dance centers around social dancing: its impact on the individual and the community. The aim was to make something experimental and edgy with a political message. In selecting the dancer/choreographer the goal was to find someone who would look totally natural dancing soca, as well as being a skilled professional dancer/choreographer. Latin and contemporary dancer, internationally known Leon Rose, who has twenty years of dance and choreography experience, was the perfect choice: both he and Malika have been going to Carnival since they were a few months old. Their mothers would argue that they took part in Carnival while in the womb. When the piece was being filmed, it quickly became clear that there was something magical in the way the two artists danced together; it spoke both of the relationship between the man and the woman in the poem, but also spoke to the wider relationships between genders in this part of the world. Here we see a woman as the strong voice and rock able to contain and comfort a young, damaged man. Combined with the beautiful and haunting pan music of composer Kyron Akal, (composed for this piece) the result was a piece which challenges stereotypes of soca and carnival and brings a beautiful, fierce poem to life.
Dancer and choreographer Ella Mesma collaborated with poet Karen McCarthy Woolf for this dance-poetry film. Fiona Melville shot and directed the film and Andrea Allegra wrote the music. Nathalie Teitler was the producer and creative director for Dancing Words, “a project designed to explore what happens when you bring together the art forms of dance and poetry” (something I’ve been interested in here at Moving Poems for quite some time). The project website includes interviews with Woolf and Mesma about the making of the film. Here are three snippets from Woolf:
I’ve experimented with poetry film before, working with Morbleu director Fiona Melville, but I’d not thought about dance and choreography. What’s amazing to me is how suited it is to lyric poetry – the dancer’s movement is a visual shadow of the white space, the silence and the emotional arc of the poem. […]
For me a film or a collaboration is a way for a poem to take shape in a more three-dimensional format than the page offers – although of course the reader’s imagination is capable of projecting anything onto the screen of the mind! In this sense I see poetry film as an extension of form…
The film is not illustrative of the poem, it’s a new interpretation and that’s exciting. A new collaborative authorship has come to into existence. That to me is the transformative quality of art. Seeing a dancer interpret the words and movement of the piece that in turn responds to the text and soundtrack. Fiona also trained as a painter/fine artist, and I think that she brings that aesthetic to the work. Everyone has a level of expertise to bring to the table. In a sense a collaboration is also a visual ‘reading’ of a poem — you get to experience an audience’s understanding of the work and help shape a communal reinterpretation.
Do read the rest.