september 16, 1997
world dance forms
"global mass cultural exchange brings us closer together"
both the video "dancing: the power of dance" and "chuck davis dancing through west africa" attempt to present what they see as a trend towards cultural convergeance, embodied in dance. both videos used the camera to visit foreign locales and bring "world" dance home to the states; the power of dance video presented a series of world dancing snapshots, the davis video chronciled some specific cultural exchange as the narrator travelled through west africa.
the chuck davis video did an excellent job of portraying native movement context, especially considering its half hour length. we see scenes of him bending over bowls of fish and rice, demonstrating how the motion of scooping food into his mouth forms an integral part of the hand gesture of a west african dance. also, we see extended footage in the marketplace, showing the integration of rhythym in the culture, drumming along with wrestling matches, the making of drums, children's movement games.
perhaps unintended, the davis video's final scene of world unity, alternating between footage of the same dances being performed in west africa and north carolina, demonstrates the still broad gulf between the two movement contexts; in africa, as davis mentioned numerous times, there is constant playful competition - performers are surrounded by other potential performers, and they engage them in a challenging way. in north carolina, there is a far larger audience visible, because they are all seated observing.
on the other hand, the latter portion of the power of dance that i was able to see trumpeted the loss of context as potentiating a "global mass cultural exchange." watching indian expatriates in london reproduce bhangra in a discotequesque setting, incorporating a little disco hip shimmy, either signals a bold new fusion, or the advent of worldwide macarena. the indians there were excited to recognize their ancestors who had founded the dance, and how much harder their land-based lives had been. in the context of the video, a seven minute snapshot of this small indian community that acts punjabi for weddings seemed a bit glib - the video used their synthesis readily as an example of dance-style intermingling "bringing us closer together," without any reflection whatsoever on what has been lost. for example, i noticed the dancers using what looked like folding sock dryers to make noise as they danced; where does that come from?
neither video, especially the glib-toned "power of dance," considered the value of context for dance; while davis reveared it, his project was to import the movement away from the (herons? egrets?), foods, and everyday activities that informed it.
in some ways this was the most observable tragedy of these videos; these movements that are made to celebrate and accompany daily activities, or in the punjabi case, to observe the harvest, are now being fixed and hoisted on pedestals far away from home. the first dancers we meet in the davis video are a professional african troupe, keeping custom alive. in the power of dance, we meet a young indian woman being taught to dance, based on her teacher's concieving of a hindu diety; this i watch in a secular, analytical context. i appreciated her movements, the time such a young girl could keep, but i was not spiritually attuned, except in the most broad way, to her devotion.
based on davis's coverage of the african dances, and even the belgian aggressive instinctual movement of vim vandecebers, it seems that these dances are designed in context. so i am glad to be inspired by these folk, to vicariously enjoy the rhythm of a north indian harvest without having to work for it, and i am left wondering what to dance as a computer using twenty-something north american.