“I have found useful a distinction that societies make in east and central Africa. According to John Mbiti, Kiswahili speakers divide the deceased into two categories: sasha and zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, living dead. They are not wholly dead, for they live on in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead.”
James Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
(read this book if you haven’t already)
I’d been kicking around the idea of doing some non-traditional dance reviews for a while and decided to use the American Realness festival as a launch-pad for some experimental formats. The reviews will be coming out in the next few days, and are my attempts to help keep the performances in the realm of the sasha. If a performance happens over a two-night run and no one ever mentions it again or remembers it a month later, that work is dead; zamani dead. Talking about it can deepen the experience, solidify it in the bones, help extend the memory. I believe that the work gets better, and heavier (in a good way) when people are engaged in responding to it, in their own minds and spirits and with each other.
Traditional dance criticism may not be dead, but it’s certainly not a healthy creature at the moment. We need new models for new audiences, new conversations around new hybrid artforms. With the decline of the hierarchical, authoritative professional critic, I hope that more voices can bubble up in the public sphere and the dialogue around performance can become richer and more expansive. These responses to the shows I saw at the festival are intended as experiments. Let me know if you’re insulted or elated, mystified or hungry for more.