In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Athina Vahla: Playing Dirty - An Arena Project

A practice - led experiment in collaboration with Rhodes women’s soccer team for the ‘Synthetic Dirt’ Colloquium (Rhodes University Fine Arts Department, 16-17 April 2011). 

This presentation will be preceded by a workshop performance on 15 April at 8pm at the Rhodes Theatre.  All Welcome.

Arenas are performance case studies based on the notion of agon [Greek meaning conflict, struggle]. Taking place in spaces configured for contest Arenas raise a fundamental question, namely, whether the space defines the contest or whether the contest dictates the space.

The women soccer event is one case study within the broader Arenas project, the aims of which include:
1. The development of Sport Theatre a new hybrid form of performance which uses the language of sports in theatre.
2. The value of sport theatre for the local and broader cultural, social and political arenas.
3. Audiences’ development; bringing sport fans and art audience together.

Project goals
- To challenge the liminal space between sport and art performance, the functional and the aesthetic
- To create a ‘distinct’ artistic voice by ‘mixing’ two different physical practices performed by sportsmen and women rather than athletically trained actors.
- To promote collaborative exchanges between different academic disciplines in order to observe what emerges from this synergy.
- To ‘dirty’ sports, arts, science, and possibly ‘dirty’ the ways we tend to view structures of different types of systems and models.
- To define new territories…

Audiences at the colloquium will be part of a ‘staged experiment’ which will include the following aspects:
A pre-performance routine which ‘pushes’ the mental and physical skills of each player prior to the game .
Subtle ‘interventions’ to subvert the game rules and ethos. The dislocation of the playground, the shifting of goal posts, the reduced number of players, the use of text, all challenge the team’s training as well as the performance experiment.

The ‘dirtying’ of the game becomes apparent in that expressed human effort is revealed rather than concealed. The safe terrain of a highly structured sport is deliberately ‘sabotaged ’. A number of idiosyncrasies is highlighted; the playing field becomes an enclosed theatre, and, perhaps most importantly, the borderland between the private (training) and the public (game) is challenged and exposed. The conference as a hosting structure becomes an arena in which these interventions are played out.

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