If millions of personal hours are poured into circulating a cultural phenomenon, how do we trace its authorship and — perhaps more importantly — its transformation? When is something appropriation versus translation, interpretation or simply scamming? In a roundtable printed by Artforum in the summer of 2017, scholar Homi Bhabha gestures at a slight but not insignificant distinction — “If the same dance moves are learned through YouTube in Botswana and then Bombay and then somewhere else, that’s a kind of infectious cultural representation.”
Swiss choreographer Marie-Caroline Hominal and South African dancer Nelisiwe Xaba offer an infectious performance through which creative authorship, appropriation and transformation are considered. Authenticity and authentic representation hang by a thread. Part dance composition and part tactile installation, Hominal/Xaba is a haptic melding of the visual and the sonic. Presented at the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) at the University of Cape Town on the 4th and 5th of September, the performance is an iteration within a series that toured Durban and Johannesburg in 2022, following its premiere at La Bâtie festival in Geneva in 2019.
Hominal/Xaba creates an abstracted world engulfed in graphic and richly coloured fabric. Metre upon metre of bold textile fabricates a fluid and malleable macro-cosmos. In this universe, space can be walled and unwalled, folded, tucked and collapsed. Yarn, initially installed across the hall in zigs and zags by the artists, lands up on their bodies (perhaps as ornament or armour) through a complex series of flexions, extensions, rotations and contortions. Of course, textiles signal ideas of reproduction and circularity — for instance, the manner in which cotton fabric inspired by Batik printing methods of Indonesian origin, produced in Holland makes its way to Ghana as a type of Kente cloth — the production “in another place, of something new, which bares the trace of the original” (Walter Benjamin). One gets a sense though that this is not really what the performance is about, but rather a tool to move us towards a kind of emotional and cognitive landscape.
Hominal and Xaba replicate dance moves from Youtube tutorials— lively Gcom moves are punctuated by hyper-cute K-pop frolics and a loop of wacks, spins, dips and duckwalks. As each gesture transforms from an arrangement of steps into an embodied and affective experience the screen as an interface is broken through…making space for a kind of falling in. Through sweat and intense focus Hominal and Xaba collectively author a new dance of the commons by beautifully transcending individual authorship. The dancers in the tutorials and the dancers on the stage co-create, deforming both time and space.
Throughout the performance, there’s a dynamic balance between spectacle and actuality. Hominal and Xaba never leave their bodies. Toward the end of the performance, they enter into a short dialogue reflecting on their experiences of the journey. Xaba reminds Hominal, “I need order, unlike Switzerland, South Africa is a country of chaos. I need order.” At this moment, all the contingencies of our lives, both dancers and audiences, are brought back into the massive dimly-lit hall. With our burdens, complications and triumphs, we participate in the making of a new moment.
This story is produced in the context of an editorial residency supported by Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, the Swiss Arts Council.