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Crossing – Opiyo Okach

September 4, 2009

Dressed in black and white, six women move onto the stage and begin to dance. Their movements are varied and it is clear that they are improvising to the live music of Mike Vargas. Improvisation is an important tool for Opiyo Okach and he intends to use this piece as an experiment for his upcoming performances in Kenya, his home country, with the work entitled ‘Territories in Transgression.’ At one point a familiar pattern from his master class, which I attended, emerges. One dancer places their hands on the base of the spine and nape of the neck of another dancer. She moves her hands up and down the spine to help inform the moving dancer where the spine is in relation to her movement. Slowly, they leave the stage as Opiyo himself enters.

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

Opiyo continues the improvisation, standing up, sliding, rolling to the ground, moving continuously. A lone man in what now looks like a large space. A screen descends on the left and with a video playing, the women from the begining roll their way across the floor, passing the screen, and four new women stand in black to the right of the screen, some of their faces shrouded. The video plays a compilation of scenes, some of them serious images of violence or the faces of important government officials but some of them are merely the scene of a camel’s head chewing its food. When discussing the peice with Opyio later that night he told me that the camel was an animal that watched many things in his country, the violent acts of revolution, the rise and fall of leaders but, as the video demonstarted, it merely stands there and chews. It does not know or care about its changing environment. To conclude, more women stand facing the audience, only this time they are covered in the caution tape used in Kenya and that has been visible in the background of the video.

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

It is difficult to truly understand the piece as an American who does not recognize the faces on the screen or even the caution tape covering the women on stage. Without the immediate cognitive stimulation these images would create in those within the Kenyan culture, we as an audience can only assume what we are watching, possibly coming to the wrong conclusion. It is an interesting question as to how an international artist should try to communicate their dance to an audience who may not have the background to comprehend it. Perhaps it calls us to find out more.

How do you feel about the use of video in dance productions, how does it help or hinder?

The piece relied heavily on improvisation, how did you feel about its use in this performance?

Were you able to recognize the people in the video or the video footage? Do you think recognition is important?

Have you ever ridden a camel?

Different Voices, August 7th, 2009
Schaeffer Theatre, Bates Dance Festival
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jessicacabot permalink
    September 5, 2009 6:46 am

    as an improviser of sometimes-funny scenes, it’s interesting to me to imagine how someone would improvise a dance. it must be harder than it seems. certain guidelines? because it must be improvised differently than the way you dance in a club is improvised. it’s probably more specific and intentional even though it’s spontaneous. but i don’t know… i’m not a dancer!

    i’ve never ridden a camel.

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