The African Chronicles: Solo to Ensemble

photography by Ouassim Esmili

Tonight, the Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project presented two works, “Not because you are African” and “Whiteness Revisited” at the French Institute in Rabat, Morocco. With the New Year holiday being the same evening we were a little worried our audience would be small, but we were happy to see a good size crowd for the evening performance. I wasn’t expecting such positive responses we received following our performance, almost all of the crowed stayed after for the Q&A. They had many questions in regards to race and issues surrounding Olivier’s exploration of personal experiences about “being African” juxtaposed against my solo, “Whiteness Revisited” about white privilege and the invisibility of whiteness.

The two solos worked very well together and it was very interesting to see the two solos back-to-back and how both issues were strengthened. The works tonight said something about assumptions we all make about the color of skin. The audience was a mix of Moroccans, Europeans, Arabs, and other Africans not from Morocco. They seemed really interested in race tensions and how those play out in their own mixed culture. Even the translation for the Q&A traveled between English, French, Arabic, and Moroccan dialects.

Tonight I was really proud of the work we did; I usually am proud, but tonight I was especially proud because I knew the audience felt something personal. They saw well directed and choreographed work that contained socially-relevant subject matter. The tensions of race were brought out through personal stories, through some drama and some humor. Following the evening we picked up Windega from a sitter’s home and as we drove away it was absolutely beautiful to see my colleagues hold their sleepy daughter in their arms. Strangers may clap, and acquaintances may praise, but at the end of the day, it seems their work is for her. Solos will continue, but nothing compares with the ensemble they make as a family.


The African Chronicles: Men…revised

After about two weeks in Meknes, Casablanca, and now Marrakesh, I have some editing to do. Like a beginner in language, when one learns a few words a day it completely transforms how even short phrases are understood. Within the past two weeks new contexts have been added to my cultural vocabulary. Such as the elderly gentleman who watched me curiously as I played with Windega while waiting for a train, only later did I see how he pushed through the crowd of passengers and lifted my bag for me as I boarded the train. Then there was the guard at the front of my hotel who ran after me when he saw someone following me around a corner; he demanded that the man leave me alone even though the man was an acquaintance of mine. Then the quiet hotel clerk who let me into a hotel room, where I was not a resident, for ten minutes so I could get wifi to check my email for directions to get to my church. Or the multitude of men, ages 8-78, who catch Windega’s eye to coo at her and then give two kisses on her cheeks. Those cafes full of men are now fathers, grandpas, uncles, sons, and brothers. I hope they are forgiving of an illiterate sister.

Last weekend we had our first performance inside the majestic Bab Mansour. Built during the 17th century by the great, multiplied by eight, grandfathers of the current King of Morocco, Bab Mansour was an impressive venue to offer a performance. I find that with the solo, “Whiteness revisited” it alters within the context and history of the audience to which I am presenting. How is a white female from the U.S. viewed from a predominately Islamic-Arabic population? I know the tension felt different and the connection between the audience was much stronger…and many of them called out “Bravo” after the evening performance.

Two days later the Baker and Tarpaga Dance Project presented their work from their recent residency with the local university students. The audience again was full of family and friends so anxious and excited to see their loved ones present work, some for their first time. I was impressed with the dancers completely infectious excitement about performing dance work. It reminded me of my excitement when performance was not such a common experience. The opportunity to have an audience that offers their money, time and attention to consider artistic ideas is quite an exchange and one that I’ve learned should not be taken for granted.

Previous to the university students showing, a group of young boys from a local orphanage performed a short hip-hop routine. I learned that out of the 400 orphans only four are female. After a brief discussion I learned families usually have more sympathy for abandoned females rather than males and generally unwed mothers are encouraged to keep female babies rather than male babies. Thoughtfully, I watched as various boys begged me to capture their image in the camera…they wanted to know someone, anyone, was watching. They meticulously performed their learned material and then surprised the whole of the audience with stales, 6-step, and coffee-grinders, and yes, this was their first time dancing Hip-Hop. Their pride and happiness in their performance was remarkable; again, I was humbled at the power of art and its ability to lift the individual. Some may think these are just boys, and this is just some dance performance, but they are just boys that will soon be men.