Tag Archives: Contemporary Dance

Connecting With Our Body with Zosia Jo – interview by Eva Marloes

The disconnect with our bodies is making us sick. We communicate through disembodied social media and are strangers to one another. As the Coronavirus spreads across Europe, it might sound strange to advocate for a stronger connection with our body and nature, and yet it is through connection that we get to know what our body can do, its vulnerabilities, and how to make it resilient. The exhibition and performance ‘Fabulous Animal’ by dancer and performance artist Zosia Jo is thus unwittingly topical. It is an invitation to rediscover our body without judgment and to find strength by tapping into our animal side.

I have never had a rosy picture of nature. Nature can be terrifying and ruthless. Nature doesn’t ‘need’ us; rather we need nature. We are of nature. Zosia Jo’s invitation to have a more grounded relationship with our body and those of others emphasises strength born of acceptance rather than control. It is a much needed lesson in these times of uncertainty, anxiety, and disconnect.

Some might find it all too abstract, but there’s nothing abstract about the body. The coronavirus spreading illness and panic brings home how we fool ourselves into believing that we are above nature and detached from it. We want to dominate nature even to the point of extinction. We want control over the body. Men, in particular, want to control women’s bodies. They do so through rape and harassment, through restrictive legislation on reproductive health, and through the labels applied to women for what they wear, how they look, and how they move. Zosia Jo wants to ‘shake off the patriarchy’. Yet, her message is for everyone. Women bear the brunt of this ideology of dominance and control, but men are oppressed by this too. The attempt to eliminate vulnerability, repress emotions, and control the body is what makes us weak.

The work of Zosia Jo invites us to stop, watch, and listen to our body. There is an aliveness in the photos and videos of Zosia Jo seeing and experiencing her body as if she has woken up from a long sleep. She plays with her flesh and muscles, with her hair, teeth, and skin. She touches the body of a tree from inside in a sensuous and playful way. She climbs a tree like a monkey. She does not conquer nature, but connects with it.

As a dancer, Zosia Jo tells me that she was always aware of how important the line of the body and the look of the body were. She tells me,

“I got thrust into this world where it was all about ultimately how I looked, even though it’s more complicated than that. I got swept into trying to be thin, trying to be in a certain way. My journey back to performing and dance became a very personal one, one that was about finding myself, empowering myself to feel good about my own body and to dance again. To perform was a big part of that.”

She studied somatic dance, which stresses listening to one’s body to appreciate how movement emerges. She has run workshops for people to experience their bodies without judgment. She has worked extensively with women in Cairo, who rarely get the opportunity to be in a safe and creative space away from the ever-present male gaze. Women are under constant pressure to look pleasing to men. Zosia Jo sought to ‘shake off’ that judgment. She tells me,

“It’s the curiosity about the body, feeling and touching with no judgement, I might be touching the part of body I least like but I have to discover it as if I had no attachment to what that is.”

Zosia Jo listens to her body and only her body. She seems to forget the audience and the camera or, more poignantly, she doesn’t care. Released from the pressure to conform to expectations, be they expectations of beauty, grace, agility, she can breathe freely. Her technique is like breathing, a continuous expanding and pulsating. It’s paying attention to one’s body and only one’s body.

“I wanted to make something that was ugly … let go of this instinct of making something beautiful and just be utterly unrefined. The goal was to be so ugly that is beautiful.”

Yet, she is a performer relying on external validation and enjoying the relationship with the audience. I ask her what she does to communicate how she feels to the public. She tells me,

“Somatic dance can be a bit trippy … I might feel great but I look disempowered, how do I match my own experience with what I’m trying to say to the audience and not look like shrinking and hiding in public space? That is the question.”

It is the connection with animals that makes that communication possible, she asked herself,

“Which animal enabled me to be in the world in such a way that it’s clear I’m taking space or that I’m being empowered? At the same time a feeling good, that is not fake, that is not impersonating a kind of traditionally male sense of what power is or what power looks like, but that I am feeling good.”

Zosia Jo performs the instinctive and earthy character of an animal but juxtaposes with the ‘fabulous’ of queer culture.

“Fabulous … I think of queer culture, dressing up, taking ownership of one’s sexuality. … I like the contrasts between queer culture, glamour, sequins, sparkles, sexuality and shiny expressionism, and animal, which is something earthy and grounded. I loved the seemingly paradox.”

This is what makes it a fun performance. Performance can in itself be liberating. I ask her where she finds the internal validation for this work. She tells me,

“When you listen to physical reality, you can ground yourself and feel grateful just for being present and alive. When you feel what the body can do and get excited about what it can do instead of what it can’t do or instead of what is wrong with it that’s very validating without having to be impressive in any way… It’s not ‘heroic’ movement … moving to the beat, it’s something so human. Everyone can do it.”

Everyone can do it. Everyone can rediscover their body, “wobble all the fat” and have fun with it without fear of judgment, without the need to control it. The empowerment is not in dominating and controlling; the empowerment is in the connection.

Watch the videos of Zosia Jo here.

Fabulous Animal Live Performance – A Review by Eva Marloes

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Fabulous Animal is a composite artistic project, which includes photos and videos of professional dancer Zosia Jo and of workshops’ participants and Zosia Jo’s live performance at Cardiff Made. It is an exploration of the body in its fleshy and animalesque dimension. The performance begins with Zosia Jo feeling her body, her teeth, her arms, licking her arm, comparing the hair in her armpits with the hair on her head. She stretches her muscles and shakes her body. She dresses and undresses.

The performance starts with playfulness and warmth. Zosia Jo is friendly and puts us at ease. Zosia Jo has a beautiful physicality and control over her body. Every move looks natural, with no tension, and easy. As her body moves slowly and softly, it becomes seductive. It is seductive in the literal sense of the word, in bringing us closer. She embodies an eroticism without a mask.

In the very small space of Cardiff Made, Zosia Jo projects a sense of wider nature. She moves like the waves of the sea, like the movement of our lungs as we breath. What is striking of the performance is her ability to give a sense of being in nature and part of nature. Zosia Jo is successful in stripping us of our everyday masks and let us see that underneath our clothes we are animals. In nature, the spectators would have been able to sense more their own body and their relationship with rocks, sands, trees, or water.

The texts beside the photos give a thoroughly research context linking this exploration of the body and nature to feminism. However, it is too abstract for the performance, while it is probably more powerful in the contexts of the workshops Zosia Jo did in Egypt. The exploration of the body outside of societal constructs of beauty, strength, and skill can resonate with men as well as women. In a disembodied society, we can all benefit from experiencing our bodies differently. At the performance, we remain spectators; yet as we watch Zosia Jo, we can imagine her as an animal. Like a butterfly she spreads her wings and she is nature. She is a fabulous animal.

You can watch the video online at the following address: https://www.zosiajo.com/

Interview Emma Mallam Director at E-Motion Dance and CEO at MCD – Motion Control Dance

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Emma (second left jumping) with Motion Control Dance members

Our project coordinator Guy O’Donnell recently spoke to Emma Mallam Director E-Motion Dance and CEO at MCD – Motion Control Dance 

Hi Emma, can you tell me how you got involved in your area in the arts?

I have been dancing since the age of 3 and loved performing on stage so I always knew I would make a career in the dance world. When I began to look for jobs during my BA Hons degree, I was devastated to find out that I would not become a performer as I was too small being only 4ft11″ when the average height for a professional dancer at the time was at least 5ft4″!!!!!!  I was lucky to be accepted onto a PGCE Dance at Secondary School degree – there were only 2 universities that were delivering the course back then in 1996 and mine was one of them. After graduation I got a job at a high school in Ashford, Surrey teaching dance and drama then moved to a school in Birmingham when they changed my job role to that of a PE teacher. A year later I found my dream job in Stantonbury Campus in Milton Keynes teaching dance across all levels of KS 3 & 4, GCSE and BTEC Dance. I moved back to Wales in 2000 when my husband fell terminally ill and I began to develop community dance classes in the Vale of Glamorgan as a freelance teacher who saw a niche in the market – my first street dance class held in a small community hall had 74 girls turn up for it! From there I was employed by a voluntary youth organisation in 2005 as a dance co-ordinator and my programme has since grown from there.

You describe yourself as Director at E-Motion Dance and CEO at MCD – Motion Control Dance Can you explain what this means?

After being made redundant in 2014, I had a choice to either have a complete career change or take on the dance programme that I had been developing as my own independent venture – I decided to take the leap on my own as we had over 200 young people dancing with us each week. I created E-Motion Dance as a sole trading dance school but had my mind made up that I wanted to create Motion Control Dance into a charitable organisation rather than just another dance school as I wanted to leave a legacy of the great work that we had produced over the years in the community. We were successful in May 2015 to be registered as a CIO so E-Motion Dance is now part of the Motion Control Dance charity. Being a small charity there is only me and a handful of wonderful and dedicated freelance staff who produce outstanding results with all whom we work with and our reputation is highly thought of in our area. As the director and CEO, I wear a lot of different hats every day to keep the organisation thriving – teaching, co-ordinating, monitoring, developing, admin, funding, marketing, film making etc – its hard work but I love it! I am hoping to create a bigger team in the near future so the organisation can continue to grow from strength to strength.

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Motion Control Dance Members

Was there a moment when you thought this is the career for me?

I always knew I wanted to have a career in dance but I think the turning point was when I went for an interview to be a medical secretary in college at the age of 15 because the career’s advisor said it paid good money! It was then I realised that I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day doing a job that I didn’t have any passion for!! So I went back to school to do my A levels and got a place in Laban College in London and I thought my life as a dancer was beginning. But my dream was cut very short as that year the government stopped all discretionary grants I was told I couldn’t go to Laban. I was heart broken and then had to wait for clearing day to apply to all other dance colleges only to find they were all full! I found a place for a BA Hons dance degree at Bedford College which turned into De Montfort University while I was there – I graduated in 1996 with a 2:1 – so my dream to work in the field of dance was still alive. I have been very privileged to have created my own career path teaching dance and becoming my own boss, enjoying every day in work – something that not many people can say!

Are their any individuals or organisations that helped support you once you realised a career in the Arts was for you?

My mentor in university was the person who inspired me to pursue a career in teaching dance in education. Her name was Jacqueline Smith-Autard, the acknowledged world-leading exponent in dance education, Chief Examiner for the dance GCSE and was a founder member of the National Dance Teachers Association and a pioneer in the use of technology to extend and enhance dance pedagogy. From her I developed my passion for teaching dance to children and young people and also the realisation that I was good at it!

I also owe a lot to the youth voluntary organisation Vibe Experience who believed in me when I told them that I would develop a successful dance project when no-one would hire me on a full time basis after my husband died. I couldn’t support myself and my young son as a freelancer – I needed the security of a salary and if they hadn’t taken me on I expect I would have gone to work in a dead end job that I hated just to make ends meet.

Can you tell us more about the two dance projects your run?

EMD_new_logo copyE-Motion Dance runs weekly dance sessions at the Barry YMCA in street dance, break dance, hip hop and creative dance for ages 3-30yrs. Groups perform at local community events throughout the year and our street dance team compete at local & regional competitions and have achieved great things!  We bring guest tutors down occasionally such as Carlos Neto and Xavi from Pineapple Dance Studios to work with our dancers but the sessions are mainly taught by our A Team freelance faculty who are very passionate and highly motivated to produce great results through dance.

 

MCD logoMotion Control Dance aims to ‘advance the education of people all ages, living in the Vale of Glamorgan and the surrounding areas, in the performing arts, particularly the art of dance, for the benefit of the public’. Through provision of classes, workshops, training and performance opportunities, we have created many memorable experiences for over a decade, working closely with schools and agencies in the Vale of Glamorgan with disadvantaged groups. Our mission is to give the community ‘A Chance 2 Dance’ – we are very proud of our award winning group of disability dancers the Local Motion Dance Company who started with us in 2008 that was funded by Children in Need for over 6 years. We also run training courses for Dance Leaders and provide volunteering opportunities with the MV Awards. Motion Control Dance also provides holiday schemes and organises trips and workshops with professional dancers such as Candoco and National Dance Company Wales.

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Motion Control Dance Members

Do you have any advice for anyone interested in following your career path?

Follow your dream and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t – it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of passion with a relatively low income but it is worth it as each day is never the same! I would suggest they train in all forms of dance to understand the many techniques so you can break down the styles correctly to teach. I am a great believer that you can never stop learning – there are always new methods of teaching to discover and new trends to understand. I advise anyone wanting to get into teaching dance to volunteer to help out with classes in their local area to gain valuable experience of behind the scenes of the dance studio as too many young people think that teaching is easy and that they can just grab a stereo, play some hype music and show off a few dance moves but it takes a deep understanding that everyone learns in different ways and you have to accommodate for all abilities to ensure everyone gets an enjoyable and high quality dance tuition. I would also advise them to take part in performances for themselves so they understand what it takes to get up on stage and have the confidence to perform in front of others like they will expect their students to do. I would also advise anyone interested in following a career in dance teaching to ensure they have studied at University level and undertaken one of the many teacher examinations with a credible board, this will give you good reputation of being skilled and knowledgeable in your subject. There are so many more opportunities nowadays for those wishing to dance as a career than back in my day! They also must be a people person and love kids!!!!!

What are the opportunities for those interested in dance as a career in Wales?

I always tell any students who want to pursue a career in dance to study with a variety of teachers of different styles to give them a broad range of teaching methods. I also advise them to get involved with extra dance projects such as the National Youth Dance Wales or AdVance Dance. I understand Bridgend College has a wonderful dance and musical theatre programme that they can study at for 2 years and then I would strongly recommend Rubicon’s Full Time One Year Dance Course before going on to either the BA Hons Dance degree at Cardiff Met or University of Wales St Davids. Of course most dancers choose to focus on finding a place in England such as London or Manchester as that is where there are more opportunities for dancers but over the years we have lost a lot of talented young dancers who have never come back to Wales, which is a shame.

 

How do we get involved in your dance projects?

Motion-Control_Dance_0850We offer a range of services in the Vale of Glamorgan for those wishing to take weekly sessions, those who want to pursue a career in dance, those who are looking to gain work experience or a university professional placement or organisations wishing work in partnership with our organisation.

If anyone would like to get involved with our dance projects please visit our websites
www.e-motiondance.co.uk/ www.motioncontroldance.com

Please contact Emma Mallam by sending an email to info@motioncontroldance.com or emma@e-motiondance.co.uk

Thanks for your time Emma.

Emma Mallam with company members

Review Jo Fong: An Invitation… by Renn Hubbuck

 

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I opened the door to the dance hall at Chapter Arts Centre, lots of unknown faces turned their heads and peered at me. There were two long rows of chairs facing each other with an aisle running down the middle. The one woman who was standing said ‘hello’ and I quickly chucked my bag on the floor and placed myself onto an empty seat. The standing woman faced away from me and carried on with her performance, if she had ever stopped. I had no idea what to expect but I was certainly intrigued.

The woman was attempting to dance. I say attempting because she would interrupt her movements, stop herself and start again, trying to achieve something, I wasn’t quite sure what, commenting on what she was doing all the while. It was unclear whether I was watching a wholly scripted piece or a workshop for dancers which was more spontaneous and organic. This blurring between reality and performance was clearly a theme they were playing around with. Comedy was created through her almost childlike frustration at the inability to fully let go. The audience was kept in suspense as we waited for the dance to flow.

‘Maybe you could do it like this’ piped up someone from the other side of the room. Jo Fong stepped into the space. Her energy was immediately captivating. Fong talked a lot about her energy, expressing how she was bringing it into the room and giving it to the audience. There was definitely a sense of the performer enthusing the audience; her movements were big and bold, she had something inside her which didn’t know how to get out. Again, there was that tension. It seems to be a comment on how people struggle to give in to their emotions, stopping themselves from being totally free. Fong at one point did this sporadic movement with her arm which she called the ‘contemporary arm’, stating it ‘wants to express itself.’ There was a battle for control over the body, limbs did not perform as wanted and had a mind of their own.

After advising the first performer on how she should move, a third dancer, Beth Powlesand, came up and took to the floor. They all seemed very natural in the space, making the most of the strip between the rows of chairs. The further it went on, the more I realised how much of it was staged, which didn’t diminish the piece as we were supposed to be aware of its constructed nature.

There was a key element which really made it a unique and original experience; the audience. The show was shaped by the audience as the performers were continuously responding to the people watching, to the energy of the room and incorporating it into the performance.

As people started to understand what the show was about and got more relaxed, there was a change in the power dynamic. One audience member controlled Powlesand like a puppet on a string, the dancer imitating her as she freely moved her arms. It was a fascinating development because we were no longer just watching the show, we were a fully-functioning part in it. I’ve always been very interested in audience interaction and the relationship between performer and viewer and the show explored this wonderfully. Laura Lee Greenhalgh, the woman who said hello to me at the beginning, noticed I was furiously writing notes and commented on it; she looked down at the paper and read aloud ‘who is the leader? Who is being lead?’ It seemed to create a strange electric current between her and Powlesand, who were mirroring each other, and they rapidly danced down the room together as though fired up by the observation.

Near the end of the show, Powlesland invited people to get up off their seats and follow her movements, they were now the puppets. Quite a few practically leapt out of their chairs and joined in with enthusiasm. Yet, I think one of the most memorable moments was when Fong said ‘do you think I’m going to sit on a chair and do nothing like you?’ and proceeded to give the most emotionally charged performance of the evening. Her movements became more aggressive and the tension that had been building up throughout finally came to a head. She shouted ‘I just want to get this out of my body!’ with an intensity that resonated. It’s the sort of frustration I think everyone can relate to; this sense of being trapped or being unable to feel totally uninhibited. It’s felt honest and that’s why it stuck with me.

The concept of the show for me was about breaking down barriers, not just between performer and audience but internal barriers too. It’s about trying to fully experience an emotion and letting it flow through your body without fear. However, there’s a conflict there because can you really achieve this if your are performing? It would interesting to ask Jo Fong and the other dancers whether they think they have ever had a moment of pure release while doing the show. We are constantly reminded that what we are watching is a construct while are also actively participating in forming the performance. Without the audience, the piece would not have been what it was but it can also adapt to whoever is watching. Thus we all become performers and like the three dancers, we are all in pursuit of freedom.

http://www.jofong.com/skills/audience/