Iraida Guyito Zulueta Zoa: "an uncle of mine, Oddu danced over his head."
My individual artistic contribution to this installation is a video format that I call Performance-Based Video. For me, this format expands the possibilities of movement composition and structure by literally pushing the boundaries of dance -- motion, rhythm, form and gravity -- beyond what can be captured on stage. Why Performance-Based Video to bring this project forward? Why not? I am a dancer and choreographer. The spaces, places and people I have been privileged to move among use dance as a means of spiritual expression –- the spirituality of the dancing body is primary. When I attend ceremonies, I apprehend and embody, metaphorically, trance as it is realized inside a different cultural and religious understanding while also dancing. Dancing is the bridge. My dance has taken me to edges where I might not have otherwise gone –- to explore, see, touch, taste, feel and embody.
As a dance researcher, I have spent significant time behind the camera lens in the field, a process that is the catalyst for my current artistic direction. During my years of fieldwork, I examined underlying aesthetic groundings of the dances I danced and witnessed, examined gestures and processes of ritual and themes resonant and shared in various elder oral history interviews. I drew upon these, not for the re-creation of these dances, but as source material and inspiration for new movement invention and thematic movement ideas for film.
My experience of dancing beside those who are my friends and colleagues and my explorations of dance have changed me from what I was to where I am – still in process – of going – as an artist.
As a dancer and choreographer, this project is an evocative new direction as it pushes me past old artistic boundaries and definitions of dance. It has encouraged me to explore dance from new perspectives, to be at one and the same time of me -- who I am as a contemporary artist –- and of them -- deeply moved and inspired by the stories that ground the dances of those I have danced beside; honoring and respecting their source, their lived experience.
As a researcher, this project also gives voice and recognition to the fact that arts-based ethnographic research can be successfully realized as artistic form and as evocative ethnography. Dance is my vehicle, my bridge, my gate.
About the Secrets Under the Skin Performance-Based Videos
The original idea for the Performance-Based Videos was first conceived while I was witness to a religious ceremony in Nogopko, Volta Region, Ghana. Deeply moved by the experience, I began to imagine how the images of that day could be re-imagined as contemporary choreography. Then in December 2008, Melba Núñez Isalbe, Roberto Pedroso García and I were riding back from Perico late one night in a friend's VW van en route to Havana. Roberto and I were singing at the top of our lungs to a contemporary rock CD when we began to extrapolate Arará gestures to this contemporary music. We started giving them a new voice as we played with them in different combinations and movement pathways. It was this night that my Performance-Based Videos began their own journey.
Since that time, I have worked with Brandon McElroy and his company Progressive Media Alaska and with colleague Brian Jeffery to film segments of contemporary movement material I created in response to field experiences. These contemporary phrases were created on University of Alaska Anchorage student performers and dance faculty, on University of Ghana dancers and on members of Ghana Dance Ensemble. I began first with a live choreography performed in spring 2009 at the University of Alaska Anchorage that was performed in front of three screens filled with my fieldwork images that Brandon edited and designed in response to my choreographic themes and his instinct (See media page, Secrets Under the Skin Work in Progress Live Performance Show Edit 2009). This performance was filmed for eventual integration into the Performance-Based Videos. Brandon traveled with me to Cuba that December where we filmed more material in Cuba. In the summer of 2010, Brian and I traveled to Ghana and Togo to finish the creative and film process. We worked together to conceive and create conceptual images that could support the thematic ideas I was identifying and expanded these with dancers from the Ghana Dance Ensemble. Edited portions of all contemporary material were integrated with edited fieldwork recordings from Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cuba to create four separate film segments. The use of three screens became a technique that allowed for a greater layering of images and depth of material to be presented with the time span of each DVD segment that I initially wanted to limit to 3-5 minutes. And, finally, each segment drew inspiration from one of the four elements (water, air, earth and fire) that I used as an organizing visual and conceptual metaphor. Additionally each video organized itself around a larger thematic concept.
Water. (2010) Water was designed to loosely portray the story of Justo Zulueta, an elder from Perico and his African ancestors. See Susan Matthews' manuscripts, Justo's Consecration with Oddu, and The Cockroach Manuscript for further details. I also worked with the ideas of secrets and memories contained, carried and left behind.
Air. (2010) Air was designed around the idea of gestures found in the dances of the Ewe in Dzodze and Togo, the Arará dances in Perico and Agramonte, and gestures seen during ceremony. It also explores the idea of bell ringing to call the deities – sounds carried in the air - and the seed of the first stages of ritual.
Earth. (2010) Earth explores journeys – journeys to new places, journeys into the depth of ritual, or into the depths of artistic exploration and performance.
Fire. (2010)Fire is the moment that it arrives, whatever that is for each of us.
Film credits for Performance-Based Videos Water, Air, Earth, & Fire.
* Banner image photographed by Rob Shipster