Researching Parranda by discussing syncretism, moving identities and collective joy
During these sessions/workshops, dancers and dance teachers connected and discussed the methods and concepts such as moving identity, collective joy, cultural syncretism and its relation and its relation to the body in movement under a decolonial mindset. These sessions happened in a Pop Up residency at Mousonturm supported by Tanzplattform Rhein-Main and a residency at Werkstatt.
Part of these reflections contributed to writing a commentary about this experience in an article called Unboxing Pearls in the Rough (2021).
Below is an extract of the text:
Moving Identity (ies) is a concept of the European academic context when it comes to literary research based on choreography and Contemporary Dance. According to Jennifer Roche in Multiplicity, Embodiment and the Contemporary Dancer (2015)
[...] the dancer’s moving identity as an accumulation of choreographic movement incorporations and training influences, which also includes the life path of a dancer as a gendered, socially and culturally located subject; it is in the site where consistencies are apparent and patterns emerge. A dancing body is crucible, a host to the haunting power of choreographic traces (that remain available to be re-embodied again, a site of potentiality, a lived archive and the dancer’s habitual form [...] The moving identity is an accumulation of incorporated movement that is assembled through dancing experiences. Previously embodied movement is integrated into the moving present through a process of sedimentation - a settling over time. Beyond merely a habit body, the moving identity displays the stylistic subtext as a movement signature that a dancer forms throughout her/his career path. Jennifer Roche. Multiplicity, Embodiment and the Contemporary Dancer. 2015
When analyzing Roche's definition of moving identity I find it crucial when she says “beyond merely a habit body”. Acknowledging that the body inevitably will come to habitual patterns when improvising or composing movement. Going further, if we relate the definition of moving identity to the way that communities, even pre-historically in the case of African and Indigenous descend, have danced and created their own movement traditions by collective ecstatic embodiment, we can extract that this concept also relates to a wider form of embodiment that, as Roche says: “...also includes the life path of a dancer as a gendered, socially and culturally located subject” meaning that not only academic training informs the physicality of a dancer but also the cultural contexts and the dances that, in practice, become part of their individual and collective movement identity.
Influenced by a ‘new wave’ of decolonial discourse, if we are to decolonise contemporary dance (and dance education) we must recognise and practice the contributions of dances outside Euro American borders. While also recognising their European influence as culturally syncretic dance forms. A time stuckness feeling characterizes these dance forms by the use of labels like “folkloric dance”, “ethnic dance”, “traditional dance”, and even “contemporary dance”. The peoples who practiced movement rituals shaped by cultural syncretism were not allowed to embody and worship their deities nor evolve with their own cosmovision in the way they did before becoming slaves (Dating back to XV Century). That is why we began by learning the steps of “La Parranda de San Pedro” an UNESCO intangible cultural heritage dance that comes from Venezuela. After this, we connected the learned practice with the concept of moving identity in improvised sessions and reflected about such connections after the movement sessions.
Participants: (Dancer Teachers, dancers and research collaborators) Ioulia Kokkokiou (Dance Teacher), Marialejandra Rodríguez (Dancer), Katelyn Skelley (Dance Teacher), Abril Lukac (Dancer), Hans Camille Vancol (Dance Teacher), Adam Shpira (Dance Teacher), Camilla Fiumara (Dancer), Nadja Simchen (Dancer), Jason Jacobs (Dance Teacher), Jorge Bascuñan (Dance Teacher). Video documentation by Marialejandra Rodriguez and Tim Cecatka.
Interview to Ioulia Kokkokiou
Juan Urbina: After our session together, how would you describe your moving identity?
Ioulia Kokkokiou: What was a revelation for me in the workshop was this constant change of moving identity. One has his or her own moving patterns. Mine personally come from ballet, modern and contemporary. But then, from the moment that you enter the space with people and you start dancing with them, you get inspired by them. You start copying, for example, their movements. Their identity goes into your identity. And that's why I think one cannot define or conclude that there are one or two moving identities. Maybe in some moments some moving identities are more present but in general how I understand is that it’s something that changes all the time. It is something that is very fluid and relevant. So it’s contextualized according to the people, the space, to the date, to the mood, to the body, etc etc.
Juan Urbina: I would like to know a bit more about how your moving identity connects to your culture ? Ioulia Kokkokiou: I would say that my first dancing memories were at the age of 3. And I cultivated those memories through narration and through pictures. I doubt I would have a memory of my 3 years old. And the first dance that I performed was in my village and it was a folk dance. And that stays till now with me. So many times for example when I teach jumps I incorporate, not only for raising the heartbeat and doing a bit of cardio, but also giving more folk-inspired movement patterns. Or for example, I use a lot of folk music which is kind of amalgamated with contemporary Greek music. They still really use traditional music. So it is very much inscribed in my body.
Juan Urbina: You already answered my next question. It is how you would include these moving identities in your teaching. You already mentioned it with the jumps. But also, that memory of you dancing a folk dance from the Greek culture, how does the feeling and sensations of this dance remain and are passed through your teaching practice?
Ioulia Kokkokiou When I perform folk dances regarding the age, purpose or context I feel very happy and free. I think I take that spirit with me, that sensation and feeling. And I experience it again when I am teaching in a very different form, in a very different context with no Greek people. Those folk dances, those elements of folk dances.
Juan Urbina That day we also spoke a little bit about this concept of decolonization. And do you consider that there is something decolonial in your practice. And if so, what is decolonial about it?
Ioulia KokkokiouI wouldn’t label or define it like this. But maybe what can answer your question and I find important is that we are people with roots, we are people with suitcases, so I personally find it very respectful and very meaningful for my development to carry those rituals, and to transform them into a contemporary, society, time. Maybe it is very disrespectful if I turn my back towards the traditions. I have the critical mind to decide when a tradition doesn’t suit my values and I don't want to be involved in that. But I would say cultural rituals are connected to the genesis of people and the development and to avoid them and to not show respect. Is like not to respect your elders, somehow.
Juan Urbina : I like that analogy. The way we pay respect to these ancestral dances is the same way we pay respect to our elders.
Ioulia Kokkokiou: Exactly, this is how I see it. What would we be without history? History defines us, history is like the basis from which we can jump and step out, so I find it very important.
Juan Urbina: For me, it is very validating that the message passed through and that there is a discourse that is going on.
Ioulia Kokkokiou: I knew that I have many moving identities but to put awareness on that made me realize that ‘yeah, it 's true’. It’s something that changes constantly. It was like a moment of revelation. Like an Ah! it’s true. That’s why the workshop for me was amazing and also very informative because it was the first time experiencing something like this. So it was a very important tool for my development as a performer and also as a dance instructor.
This research took part of a residency called Uncertain Unities in September 2021 in Collaboration with artists Jorge Bascuñan, Clive Tanner, Fitgirl and other Ponderosa resident artists
The multimedia collaboration between Clive Tanner, Fitgirl, Jorge Bascuñan and Juan Urbina happened in the context of the art residency Uncertain Unities at Ponderosa, Lunow-Stolzenhagen - Germany.
The research examines the traditional linear deconstruction of time by the interaction of video and performance as an attempt to capture the in/determinant dynamics of a contemporary corporeality. We question the neutrality of the term extinction, related to the death of species, epistemologies, dying languages, dances and civilizations. As a dramaturgical line, we have our lenses on the fragile construction of masculinity. We draw on the syncretism of movement identities, with the focus on the cultural-political context where the loss of contact with nature and rituals is historically related to the rise of Western Civilization, Christianity, Patriarchy, and Capitalism, The epistemicide of Afro-diaspora practices, the extinction of languages and culture, and the Anthropo-climate crisis.
One of the important elements of the Uncertain Unities residency at Ponderosa was to share our practice with the local community and other resident artists. In collaboration with Jorge Bascuñan we co-taught a workshop where we syncretised our dance practices while relating them to the creation process we were experiencing, with a focus on the concepts of Extinction and Syncretism.