Tag Archives: Lisa Wymore

Spotlight on UCIRA Artists Lisa Wymore and Amara Tabor-Smith: Sabar in the Studio

14 Feb

Ciré Beye. photo courtesy of CDG

In October, 2011, Berkeley and Oakland became part of greater Dakar. The occasion was the arrival of from Senegal of dancer Ciré Beye and master drummer Khadim Niang to conduct workshops in Sabar, the vigorous yet fluid dance form of the Wolof peoples of West Africa. For three weeks UC Berkeley’s Bancroft studio and Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts reverberated to the polyrhythmns of drums originally developed to communicate long distances in the dry regions at the edge of the Sahara, and to the cries of dance classes answering the drums.

For Lisa Wymore, assistant professor of dance at UC Berkeley, and for visiting faculty/resident artist Amara Tabor-Smith, the chance to expose their modern dance students to three weeks of “Sabar in the Studio” was not simply an exercise in learning new steps. Both teachers, Wymore says, felt “it would help students engage with dance as a world practice. Get them out of just imagining modern dance as a western phenomenon.”

Tabor-Smith, founder of Deep Waters Dance Theatre, had studied and danced with Beye in Senegal at L’École des Sables, an international center for traditional and contemporary African dance founded by choreographer Germaine Acogny. Beye, she knew, was not only a gifted teacher of traditional forms but an accomplished modern dancer, who performs internationally with Acogny’s Companie Jant-Bi. His “understanding of the body and his contemporary aesthetics,” Wymore said, made him a good fit for both their advanced and intermediate  classes.

Sabar—the word refers to the drumming and the dancing—is itself a citizen of two worlds. While a traditional accompaniment to weddings and funerals, it is also an urban phenomenon, flowering on the streets of Dakar in the wake of Senegal’s independence from France. Unlike traditional folk forms, Wymore says, Sabar “is always evolving and adapting. Like any dance—but particularly street forms of dance, it’s in flux—adopting and borrowing from other styles and developing new steps.”

It is also an exuberantly interactive effort with dancers and musicians trading rhythms and egging each other on to ever more insouciant displays of virtuosity. In the classes, the interactive or collaborative mode continued, Wymore says. “What was exciting—and Ciré kept saying this—he wanted to not be the teacher but the sharer of information, so the students could then take this form into their own practices”.

An important aspect of Sabar, Wymore says, is its involvement of the whole spine and pelvis in a kind of undulating movement—a stretch in more ways than one for those students who come out of a ballet background where the torso is held rigid—but important to developing the fluidity and versatility demanded by modern dance.

Another basic Sabar movement involves stepping from foot to foot. Wymore describes the resultant motion as “strong, earthy, and grounded.” The constant transferring of weight, she says, forces dancers to be aware of their own substance. Emotional engagement is required, too. “You have to bring your full self to it. It really requires that you not be embarrassed or holding back or shying away.” At the same time, she says, “Sabar is soft, older people do it. You don’t have to jump that high. It has this incredible gracefulness in the arms and this powerful pelvis. You can see how it was created by women.”

As a women’s dance from a patriarchal society, (the Muslim sub Sahara) Sabar also seems to carry a quietly confident assertiveness that blends well with political expression. It does so in the choreography of Acogny and Tabor-Smith. It did so again in early November. As part of the Occupy Cal/ Walkout at UCB over tuition increases, Sabar students and a class drummer left the studio to perform a kind of resistance dance as Wymore calls it on the Plaza. As their teachers had hoped, they were incorporating the form into their own practice. They were also showing—as Sabar vividly does—what mutual respect and dialog can look like.

 

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Curating People: A Round Up

10 May

Last week in Berkeley the Arts Research Center sponsored a symposium entitled Curating People. ARC director and UCIRA advisory board member Shannon Jackson diligently led up to and followed up the gathering with posts and guest-posts on her blog ARC Muses.

Posts appeared in this order:

  • Shannon Jackson on the ideas behind the symposium:
  • Erika Balsom (a Townsend post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Film & Media Studies at UC Berkeley)
  • Betti-Sue Hertz (Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco)
  • David Henry (Director of Programs, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston): 

“What type of institution is best suited to present the hybrid art forms of today? How does the economic structure of museums and the visual arts affect attitudes towards performed art which has a significantly different economic structure? How does the traditional mission of museums to preserve and collect impact its receptivity to non-object art? How do the differing histories and practices of performing arts and visual arts influence criticism of hybridized art forms in art museums?”

  • Susan Miller (currently Associate Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and formerly Executive Director of New Langton Arts)
  • Constance Lewallen (Adjunct Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum)
  • Leigh Markopoulos (Chair, Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts)
  • Michele Rabkin (Associate Director of the Arts Research Center)
  • Kristan Kennedy (Visual Arts Curator at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art): 
“I often have difficult conversations with the community of artists and others that surround me about art and money, and art and meaning, and art and value, and art and community. I use words like “hybrid” and “discursive” and “dialogue” and “ practice” and “ intention”. I often talk about “de-historization” the “current moment” and “ collapsing forms”. I love to put the word “post” in front of everything. I like to think we are post- everything. Sometimes those words sounds right, and sometimes it sounds like the shifty language of the art world and therefore, flawed and contradictory and awful. The not so secret, secret is we are all still looking for the words to describe the now.”
  • Erin Boberg Doughton (Performing Arts Program Director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art)
  • Lisa Wymore (Assistant Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley and Co-Director of Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts)
  • Post-Show Reflection by Shannon Jackson where she addresses big issues discussed at Curating People, such as “How to un-silo communities of arts and culture?”; “Economies that support hybrid art work”; “More Writers and Writing Venues”; “Future Research”; and “Future Spaces for Reflection”
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