Large family gatherings are warming, comforting, inspiring, informative, provocative, and sometimes dangerous occasions. So when IRIE ! Dance Theatre brought together an extended family of dance practitioners, promotors, educationalists, teachers, animateurs, writers, and funders to explore African and Caribbean contemporary dance they were engaged in a brave enterprise.
The key to the success of this one day gathering or conference (held at the company's base of the Albany Theatre in Deptford in May) lay in the title - "Ancient Futures". And the vital element in this title was the significant letter "s". For this family had no single future but had come together to discuss and celebrate their interconnected futures.
This family gathering encompassed those who believe that African dance is never just an aesthetic endeavour ("African people wherever they may come from or wherever they may be can never support art for arts sake") : those committed to the creation of sometimes abstract dance works utilising Contemporary American dance techniques and performed by Black dancers ("We just want to do what we do best - Contemporary dance - we just want to do our art) : those who are fusing classical ballet with Caribbean forms ("we are pocomania and pointe shoes, classical ballet and kumina, butterfly an 'urkel, fouette and grand battement) : and those inspired equally by ancestral truths and by nature ("The story of African-Americans became a mystery - but mystery is 'my story', and history is 'his story' - so what we want to do is turn 'his story' to 'my story', and that's 'our story'").
The fact that this remarkably culturally diverse gathering held together rather than fell apart owed something to the assured but down-to-earth performance of Hilary Carty, Dance Director at the Arts Council of Englnd, as chair - something to that African-Caribbean fusion where a gathering naturally encompasses words, gestures, sermons, performance, polemic and passion - and something to the calibre and diversity of the principal contributors, including Abdel R.Salaam from America (founder of the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company) and L'Antoinette Stines from Jamaica (founder of L'Acadco company and of L'Antech technique) as well as Beverley Glean (Artistic Director of IRIE! Dance Theatre), Peter Badejo (Artistic Director, Badejo Arts), Jackie Guy (former Artistic Director of Kokuma Dance Theatre), Margaret Morris (Artistic Director Phoenix Dance Company), and Ann Nugent (Dance Critic and Editor of Dance Theatre Journal) from Britain.
The gathering attained at times something of the African call-and-response form as over a hundred participants engaged with the keynote speakers and performers. The exchanges ranged through the subjects and issues of tradition and innovation, retention and racism, power and ownership, education and re-education, and finance and funding. There was no unanimity if unanimity means a single simple view held by all on one subject or issue. But there was harmony, if harmony means that different voices may sing different notes (or express different views) and yet blend remarkably together. And there was unity, if unity means a shared essence - and everyone at the "Ancient Futures" family gathering agreed that the essence of dance is not technical, or stylistic, or gymnastic, or even philosophical - but spiritual. And that, everyone agreed, is the essence which we need to carry us through to the 21st Century and beyond.
A report of the Conference is being prepared and will be available later in the year from IRIE! (The Albany Centre, Douglas Way, Deptford, London SE8 4AG. tel. 0181.691.6099. Fax. 0181.694.8464.)
Bill Harpe is a choreographer, director, and dancer who also writes on dance and the performing arts for "The Guardian", etc. He has worked in theatre, films, and TV and his credits included an African recreation of "The Orestaeia" (created in Zambia), and a Choreographed Mass for the Opening of Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral. He is a founder and co-Director of Britain's longest established community arts project, The Blackie in Liverpool, and is currently working on a book of creative and co-operative games. He would welcome contact from anyone interested in exploring creative and co-operative games.
Bill Harpe, The Blackie (Great Georges Community Cultural Project), Great George Street, Liverpool L1 5EW. tel. 0151.709.5109 (work) : 0151.709.4822 (fax) : 0151.709.3159 (home) : 0589.981858 (mobile and messages).
WRITTEN FOR "DANCE U.K." BULLETIN