5 Questions with Fana Tshabalala: A Dance of Healing for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater celebrates the end of this monumental season with three performances of Deeply Free: 20th Anniversary Finale – December 8-10 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in Chicago. The program features company classics such as Church of Nations, Desire, Surrender, as well as the premiere of INDUMBA, choreographed by South African guest artist Fana Tshabalala.
I am blessed to be in this space. They are not just dancers, they are human.
This week, DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera got a chance to talk to Fana about INDUMBA and his experience with Deeply Rooted. He started off by saying this about the dance artists: “I am blessed to be in this space. They are not just dancers, they are human.” Taking the time to talk to Fana reminded us of the importance of slowing down, taking the time to listen, and the importance on reflecting on the world around us. Read on and find out more about INDUMBA and why the time was right for Fana to create this work for Deeply Rooted:
Our spirituality is a tool that we can use to understand. With Deeply Rooted, we are creating a space that will allow people to express themselves freely without being judged and also enable them to cleanse themselves spiritually.
Kristi: In Deeply Rooted’s preview of INDUMBA, we learned that the word ‘indumba’ means ‘healing hut’. Can you expand on its meaning and the role that this plays in the work you are creating for Deeply Rooted?
Fana: ‘Indumba’ is a hut used by traditional healers. People go there to connect with their spirituality and also to consult with the healers if there’s something happening in their lives that they need clarity on. We live in a present context where life is becoming too fast. We forget that we exist, and we forget our spirituality. Our spirituality is a tool that we can use to understand. With Deeply Rooted, we are creating a space that will allow people to express themselves freely without being judged and also enable them to cleanse themselves spiritually. It is important to have access to that space and use the modern tools of movement to interpret the culture and the background.
Kristi: When you created the first iteration of INDUMBA in 2013, I understand that you traveled to Mozambique to conduct research. Can you tell us more about the research you did in 2013, as well as give us insight to the research you did for the upcoming Chicago premiere?
Fana: I looked at Mozambique as a perfect case study to research, as it’s one of the countries close to South Africa where there’s no racial discrimination and different races relate very well with each other compared to South Africa. The reason I think Mozambique has managed to overcome this is because veterans who were involved in civil war were cleansed spiritually before they could become part of the community.
This is the right moment to do this in Chicago. I allowed dancers to be vocal about these issues during the rehearsal process so that it could add to my research.
This is the right moment to do this in Chicago. I believe that issues around the state are quite evident in social media and news, and I also believe that these issues affect individuals, so I was very interested in exploring these issues spiritually with dancers and how it has affected them. I allowed dancers to be vocal about these issues during the rehearsal process so that it could add to my research. My research never stops – it happens as I walk up and down the street. I observe the way that people on the streets of Chicago interact with one another, and take notice of all the different kinds of people.
During improvisation, I look at the strong points and the points related to a proposed theme, and use that point to explore solos. This way the solos are honest and authentic.
Kristi: Creating a work like INDUMBA is a deep emotional exploration for both you and the dancers, and requires a space where everyone can express themselves freely. Can you tell us what the process of creation is like with the Deeply Rooted dancers? How do you generate and begin to explore the movement?
Fana: Indeed, the creation process is quiet emotional. Every process is different, because every person is different. I use improvisation tools for dancers to propose movement that will allow them to express the internal feeling. I also allow them to repeat movement over and over so that they can connect with it and integrate movement spiritually. During improvisation, I look at the strong points and the points related to a proposed theme, and use that point to explore solos. This way the solos are honest and authentic. For the group pieces and choreographed sections, I allow each of the dancers to have different interpretations.
Kristi: In an interview you did years back with Mail & Guardian, you mentioned that for you, “dancing is a cleansing ceremony”. Do you get the same feeling from being in the role of a choreographer?
Fana: As a choreographer/person, I believe that if one is honest and authentic in their approach, every single person watching will get affected. Their energy and commitment is contagious. This process has reminded me of who I am and what has been pushing me as an artist.
Kristi: In your time with the dancers at Deeply Rooted, have you observed them experience a sort of cleansing as well? What do you think has changed within them, and what part of the creative process do you think has had the greatest impact on that change?
Each and every time I am with the dancers I see tremendous growth technically and spiritually.
Fana: Each and every time I am with the dancers I see tremendous growth technically and spiritually. At the beginning, it was a challenge for them to improvise but now it’s becoming easier and they easily articulate their ideas. They are very open, honest and authentic.
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater presents Deeply Free on Friday, December 8th at 7:30pm, featuring an evening length presentation of Fana Tshabalala’s INDUMBA, and on Saturday, December 9th at 7:30pm and Sunday, December 10th at 2pm, featuring works by Kevin Iega Jeff, Gary Abbott and Nicole Clarke-Springer. Performances are in the Performance Hall at Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St
Chicago, IL United States. For ticket information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 312-795-9777, or visit Deeply Rooted Dance Theater online.
PHOTOS (from top): Pierre Clark, Joshua Ishmon, Dominique Atwood (being held) • Fana Tshabalala • Anthony Williams, William Roberson • Marlayna Locklear • Joshua Ishmon, Dominique Atwood, Pierre Clark • Clockwise from top L: Marlayna Locklear, Perre Clark, Shanna Cruzat, Rebekah Kuczma, Dominique Atwood, William Roberson, Thulani Alfred Chauke, Fana Tshabalala, Anthony Williams • All Photographs by Ken Carl, courtesy of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater