by William Kentridge
Drawing from the Prince Claus Fund’s network, #YCreate explores the human palette of dreams, fears, and motivations with one key question: ‘Why do you create?’ Read the stories and dive into their work on Medium and by visiting @ycreate_pcf on Instagram.
Today: William Kentridge tells us about Dada Masilo.
I had seen Dada Masila’s Swan Lake. She had seen some work of mine. We put aside an afternoon to see what would happen if we worked together. There was of course a shyness, a young dancer (black), a middle-aged non-dancer (not black) in the studio. We started from basics. Dada would lift her leg to an impossible height, I would copy with an unpraised arm. I would make a circular action, a non-dance action, for example, explaining something with a gesture of my hands. She would copy, repeat, expand the action, parodying it, exaggerating, finding the edges of what was being done. Simply getting up from a chair, specifically the way a non-dancing fifty-five-year-old man raised himself, became the starting point for a series of movement, a duet in which I was a straight man and she performed a series of inventions, reversals and transformations of it.
There is a sharpness and wit and a clarity in what Dada does. The idea is a starting point, but then there is the repeating, the honing, the refinement of the action. The years of training and performance embodied in her as a dancer give her a material, a means for thinking through ideas. There is a double commitment: a commitment to the broader idea, a view of history, of a metier, the weight of ballet on the feet and shoulders of dancers from outside of the centre from which it emerged; and a commitment to the material she works with, her body and the bodies of the dancers she works with. How far can an attitude be extended? How can we shift between the weightlessness of a dancer en pointe and the groundedness of a Tswana or Pedi dance with its feet thumping the earth?
Dada embodies a healthy disrespect for the traditions she straddles. This position at the edge of a tradition is a source of strength. Dada acknowledges bastardy, acknowledges the margins as a position from which new perspectives can emerge. In her reworking of the classical ballets, Swan Lake, Giselle, Carmen (and coming up The Rite of Spring), Dada takes on a particular history of movement, of narrative. It is there to be cut up, reorganised, reconfigured and sent back out into the world as something both familiar and utterly new.
It has been our pleasure to have Dada reimagine our bodies, to challenge our familiar verities, to make our ears hear differently, and to give our eyes a wider field of vision.
This text was written for the Prince Claus Fund Awards Book.
Dada Masilo (Soweto, South Africa, 1985) received the 2018 Prince Claus Next Generation Award. She is a dancer and choreographer who takes great aesthetic risks, reinventing classic stories so they speak to black identity and feminism, through an innovative dance language that intertwines African movement and rhythms with traditional ballet and contemporary dance genres. Her works deal with contemporary topics, such as the stigma and social rejection around HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and arranged marriages and are performed to a mix of African and Western music & sound. Masilo grew up in Soweto, studied classical and contemporary dance at the Dance Factory in South Africa followed by two years at PARTS — Performing Arts Research and Training Studios — in Brussels. She is Artist-in-Residence at The Dance Factory which employs her dancers. She has created and performed eleven original works, including own versions of Romeo & Juliet, Carmen, Swan Lake and Giselle (voted Best Performance 2017 for Danza&Danza).