Anna Chiedza Spörri // Exploring Dance as a Universal Language - Bubblegum Club

Anna Chiedza Spörri // Exploring Dance as a Universal Language

Dance is more than just physical performance; it’s a form of communication that intersects personal and public interests. While I’ve always admired dance as an art discipline, I’ve also grown fascinated by the concept of movement itself as a crucial and independent subject. Key to helping me understand the topic of dance and movement more appropriately was Anna Chiedza Spörri

Sporri is a versatile figure in movement artistry, choreography and creative activism who recently completed a three-week research trip at Project Utopia in Maputo, supported by Pro Helvetia. 

Bringing a distinctive perspective shaped by her dual European and African heritage- Her work explores movement and dance as a universal language that combines storytelling, spoken word, and film. 

Below, Spörri shares evaluations from her research trip and reflects on the cultural complexities that impact her work. 

Anna Chiedza Spörri
Photographed by Laura Gauch

Ruvesen Naidoo: As someone engaged in movement and expression, how do you handle the complexities of cultural differences when interpreting emotions and experiences, particularly within a project like “MAD,” which delves into Afro-diasporic experiences across continents?

Anna Chiedza Spörri: For me, engaging in conversations and avoiding assumptions is crucial to gaining diverse perspectives. While some viewpoints may not align with mine, listening to understand is essential. My dual heritage from a European and an African country allows me to navigate different contexts and empathise with experiences I’ve never lived through. Self-reflection helps me remain aware of dynamics and differences, prompting questions about my identity and privileges. This awareness influences my work and personal growth, enriching my journey as an artist and individual.

RN: With “MAD,” how do you ensure your artistic expression is not only inclusive but also representative of the diverse voices and experiences within these communities?

AC: Engaging with a diverse group of people is vital for me. I talk to everyone from the woman who braids my hair to the dancers I’ve worked with, the girls I’ve taught, artists I’ve met, and street vendors. This residency made me realise that three weeks isn’t enough for a true representation of these voices, but it’s a starting point for future work and inspiration. I aim to continue fostering these relationships and dialogues. In rehearsals, I encourage honesty and openness while respecting boundaries. Building trust is essential for meaningful conversations, especially in unfamiliar contexts.

RN: Are there specific techniques or strategies you use to ensure that the synergy between storytelling, spoken word and film remains cohesive throughout your project?

AC: I begin my creative process by asking questions, almost like interviews, to incorporate the opinions and perspectives of those I work with. These stories shape my movement, storytelling, spoken word, and visual storytelling. When writing, I include diverse realities. During my residency in Maputo, despite language barriers, I found beauty in nonverbal communication, which deepened my understanding of their stories. For filming, I usually have a clear visual vision and prefer working with a director of photography (DOP) who shares my aesthetic. I start by shooting snippets during rehearsals and experimenting with visualisations before collaborating with the DOP. I also explored the art of storytelling, noting that history on the African continent is often shared orally, which draws me to spoken word. I researched the connection between traditional storytelling and movement, a subject I plan to continue studying.

Anna Chiedza Spörri
Photographed by Anna Chiedza Spörri

RN: Could you expand on your approach to engaging with local women in Maputo?

AC: I’m fortunate to have my manager, Andrea Grossenbacher, who has lived and worked in Maputo for over a year. She connected me with a variety of local artists, including dancers, DJs, visual artists, authors, and cultural organisers, creating a snowball effect of introductions. This network, along with collaboration from Projecto Utopia and its co-founder Caldino Perema, allowed me to meet female dancers, choreographers, and activists to discuss their expressions of anger and stereotypes in Mozambican society. While focusing on female experiences, I also engaged with male artists and dancers to understand their perspectives on emotional expression, ensuring a well-rounded experience. This network of connections and suggestions from others enriched my project significantly.

RN: Can you describe an instance where you personally felt moved or transformed by the impact of dance on culture or society, either as a participant or observer?

AC: Wow, to answer this question fully I would have to write a book, but Nina Simone captured it well by saying an artist should reflect their times. I believe artists make topics, including political ones, accessible and thus drive change. Dance can inspire change in various ways without being overtly political. Art educates, sensitises, and motivates action, helping us learn about others’ realities. My goal is to inspire change or acknowledge societal problems, even if I touch just one person. For example, our performance of “PERSPECTIVES” helped people understand microaggressions through their physical impact. Seeing Dada Masilo’s “Swan Lake” transformed my understanding of art and representation, making me feel I belonged on theatre stages and prompting friends to question norms. Art changes lives, institutions, and perceptions of cultures and people, which is its beauty and duty. For me, dance is my way of expressing and creating change.

RN: How have diverse experiences of training shaped your artistic identity and influenced your approach to choreography and movement?

AC: My diverse training experiences have led to an in-betweenness in my dance style, enabling me to navigate different scenes and create unique approaches. I connect with dancers from various backgrounds and choreograph for different movement qualities. Although I started with Hip Hop, which made me feel seen and represented, and I still root much of my movement in its bounces and grooves, I also embrace repetition and patterns that are not tied to specific styles. This flexibility allows me to be inspired by the dancers I work with, creating choreography that challenges and complements them, making my movement adaptable and unique.

Anna Chiedza Spörri
Photographed by Andrea Grossenbacher

RN: Can you discuss concrete initiatives or strategies you implement to foster opportunities and amplify the voices of marginalised artists within the dance community?

AC: I try to create accessibility in various ways: providing paid opportunities, telling diverse stories, occupying spaces, and fostering a different work environment. In Switzerland, I focus on giving young POC women opportunities in dance, technical fields, production, and documentation within my projects. My goal is to increase the presence of People of Color in cultural spaces, both on stage and behind the scenes, by leading by example and sharing my access. I believe that becoming an artist is as much about having opportunities as it is about having the privilege to dream.

RN: Looking beyond your project in Mozambique, how do you envision sustaining the conversations and connections you’re fostering? Are there plans to extend this work to other communities or through collaborative projects?

AC: My vision is to create an intercontinental collaboration involving artists, dancers, filmmakers, storytellers, and others. I aim to foster relationships with various communities on the African continent and strengthen connections between the Swiss African diaspora and the continent. I plan to travel to places where I already have connections to establish trust and mutual exchange. My goal is to build relationships that offer exchange and opportunities, not just to take. Many of my artistic choices are rooted in my African connections. With my father being Zimbabwean, family in South Africa, and time spent in Tanzania, it makes sense to start creating in these spaces of in-betweenness, African modernity, ancestry, and cultural heritage.

RN: Anger, layered with social and personal context, is complex. How do you approach choreographing movements that convey the depth of anger, particularly from the perspective of women of colour?

AC: Research and trial and error. I believe movement is a universal language, often drawing from daily and subconscious movements to create choreography. In Europe, movement tends to be intellectualised, but during my residency, I let my emotions and body guide my movement, filming the process to refine it later. This research is ongoing and complex. We discovered that some gestures are universal, but their interpretation depends on context. For example, racism and its impact on anger differ between Maputo and Switzerland. These conversations prompted self-reflection and influenced my priorities. The next step is to use this research to create choreography, develop patterns, and integrate music.

Anna Chiedza Spörri
Image courtesy of Anna Chiedza Spörri

RN: Reflecting on your journey as a movement artist and creative activist, how has it shaped your understanding of female anger and empowerment? What type of realisations have significantly influenced your perspective and approach to your work?

AC: The perception of anger has significantly shaped my movement and self-understanding. My opinions and art are often interpreted as anger or political statements, such as when someone viewed my dance piece “PERSPECTIVES” as revenge, revealing their own prejudices. As a Black artist in Europe, it’s challenging to avoid being seen as political on stage. In Mozambique, art is perceived differently, which inspired me. I explore the complexity of anger, using it in various forms—soft, intense, sensitive, sensual, quiet, or loud—both intentionally and unintentionally. While perceptions often remain the same, I’ve learned to embrace the liberating and empowering aspects of anger. This sense of liberation translated into the Maputo context as well, despite differing realities.

Looking back on Spörri’s previous performance in “Father Politics” and the context of the production, It is no surprise that the continuity of her practice is heavily influenced by social and political realities. Sporri’s commitment to fostering inclusive environments and acknowledging the political aspects of art underscores her mission to confront stereotypes and drive societal transformation through creative activism and of course, through movement.  Her experience in Maputo has evidently broadened her artistic vision and solidified her resolve to utilise dance as a powerful tool for cultural exchange and meaningful dialogue in her future endeavours.

Anna Chiedza Spörri
Photographed by Anna Chiedza Spörri

This story is produced in the context of an editorial residency supported by Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, the Swiss Arts Council.

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