Day 19 – Cultural ‘lessons’ at Arts Center

W left EARLY this morning back to Cape Coast…
yesterday we had a great time hanging out…after the National Theatre we briefly stopped at the ACC – where i ran into a friend of R who i had also met at Adisadel…this friend tells me that the Dance Company i am looking for will be in rehearsal tomorrow(today) and so i plan to come back…

i also spoke with R last nite and told him of my plans – he will be there as well…
 

on my way to ACC, as i am heading down the road from my lodge, i decide to go to KINGS barber where i pay $1 dollar to get clean-shaved by a razor with the inscription “going to meet my maker”!

i appreciate this interval moment; as it allows me to ‘see’ this area of Accra more deeply…i didn’t notice the towers across from the barber shack that resemble tenement projects in New York or the never-ending spiritualized names(even phrases from scripture) adorning the tailor shops, record store and grocer shacks like “Jesus be with you”, “Our God is a mighty God” or “Prince of Peace”…though this was not disimilar to other parts of Ghana (all throughout the central region – Cape Coast, Elmina and adjoining areas -i would see rows of religious sayings encrypted on all kinds of structure), it felt like there was something special about this road…

i arrive at ACC and take in the surroundings…in some ways it feels very organic- as if these people could live, create and commune here…an artisan village that honors the traditional way of living…but then i look at the obvious ‘touristy’ crafts and paraphenelia and am reminded how this ‘village’ is simultaneously very commercialized…i run into R’s friend (RF) again and am given some history on the ACC…it was purported to be founded by artists – actual craftsmans – who wanted to sell their trade…it was in a different area but moved here over a decade ago(?)…there is a mix of: craftsman who create their work on site; sellers who buy craftwork from all over Ghana and bring it here; and detailers who put the finishing touches on work that comes from local artists…there are also restaurants catering to tourists, a meeting hall [where currently local chiefs of a particular region are meeting] and THE NATIONAL DANCE COMPANY OF GHANA…now i had thought the guide from National Theatre had told me that DANCE FACTORY was in residence here, but RF clarifies that it is the National Dance Company that is in fact here – they are preparing for IN THE CHEST OF A WOMAN! i look forward to catching them in rehearsal which will begin later in the afternoon…

somewhere in the midst of our conversation R arrives and soon after another gentleman who wants to be my ‘friend’ – in other words wants to show me his area where i can BUY! – beckons to me to “follow him”… so R, RF , my new ‘friend’ (F) and i head to another part of the village…after finding F’s area of crafts, we sit down and i engage in a conversation with F and his business partner( a cousin) who, though he is but 18 years old, ‘DROPS KNOWLEDGE LIKE AN ELDER’…

F’s cousin, Is, shares with me geographical and contextual insight into Ghana:

— he begins with sharing about ACC – giving a couple of particular details that i would like to note–30% of the people(families) that are a part of this artisan village/marketplace are actual craftsman…..these crafts people will oftentimes pass their trade onto their children or close family members…NO ONE (knowingly or with consent) resides on these dwellings – arriving at 4 or 5am to begin their day…this is a ‘warm-up’ for him as Is then begins to go deeper in the recesses of his mind to pull up other tidbits…

– He takes me to one table and speaks on Adinkra symbols, their meanings and relationship to the earlier history of Ghana – i am too enthralled to even put pen to paper…

– Alongside the Adinkra symbols are ornate bronze and silver pieces that I tells tales of each one’s origin and connection to Ghana’s labelling as “Gold Coast”…

– He then recalls the 10 Regions — Greater Accra, Central, Volta, Western, Ashanti, Upper West, Eastern, Northern, Upper East, Brong-Ahafo…including particular names of cities, villages, ethnicities and historic sites, as he conjures up a vivid picture of this country’s topography…it is like he unlocked an encyclopedia of information from his mind by the time he finishes his ‘lesson’ with me!

i try to scribble down as much as i could, but could not keep up with his arsenal of facts, statistics and clarifications…WOW!

i offer to take Is to lunch for ALL that he has shared with me….he dashes me with three
trinkets [mini-representations of]: a woman’s shoe (symbolizing ‘peace’); a turtle(dignity); and the ‘fertility’ doll (further symbolizing spawn of creativity)…

R and RF join us for lunch and (after Is has left) argue with me about NOT paying for THEIR lunch! RF ‘schools’ me about Ghanain brothership and “having each other’s back”…”if i eat, then my brother will eat” he spats at me…i counter with sharing my concerns on ASSUMING that one is going to pay for another – a mentality that seems very connected to each ‘friend’ i have made on this journey so far… more often i have paid for ALL my friends’ meals, etc when they have accompanied me and HAVE NOT had a moment when one has paid for me!

by the end of this arguement i have lost two ‘friends’… i head to the space where the rehearsal for the DANCE COMPANY is taking place..i use this as a diversion from the previous ‘heated’ moment and bask in the sun; as the company begins….

in 3 days they will perform the choreography for the production at National Theatre …their rehearsal happens in a a raised proscenium -like space with wooden floors…a ‘stage’ that opens out into the courtyard/spectators ground – where anyone can take a moment to witness them in action…i am glad to have this opportunity to witness them inside a rehearsal process; as this has been my only moment since i have arrived….they first go through movement on their own; sometimes working in tandem with other dancers or musicians or off in a corner of the space..

R joins me as they move through their beginning process and we make amends as to what happened earlier…he stays with me throughout the rest of the rehearsal…

after they have done some preliminary practicing, they work-through the piece from top to bottom…i am privvy to seeing the dance unfold as layers of people move in and out of the space, while musicians interactm, play and sometimes act/dance inside the rehearsal…the director seamlessly moves in and out of the space that the dancer/performers inhabit; giving out instructions, critique and impromptu choreography as the work-thru continues…the movement is not disimilar to any of the other traditional performances i have seen in Ghana or elsewhere, but the ENERGY and COMMITMENT of the dancers illuminates their willingness to ‘really go there’ even though it is just a rehearsal…truly admirable…45 minutes later they have collapsed on the stage, spent and ready to receive feedback from the rehearsal director…by the time this rehearsal ‘ballet’ has ended, they have: “gone to war, been enslaved, travelled across the Atlantic, and returned to their homeland – at least that is what i gathered from the gestural language, movement and music…i wonder how it connects to the title of the piece – “In The Chest of a Woman”?

R follows me out of the rehearsal space and insists on riding back to the hotel with me…i decline to continue to hang out with him, but he says that he has a doctor’s appointment in the same area…i oblige and of course pay for the ride back…

it is at this moment that i go into the ‘underbelly’ of my journey…perhaps my own rite of passage…i had wanted to experience the memories, sensations of the Africans who endured the enslavement and middle passage – trying to capture the ‘spirit’ of these ancestors, so that i may develop a performative work, a testimony, to their survival and resilience ….well I MOST DEFINITELY got a visceral experience, A LESSON IN SURVIVAL, that would most honestly make me feel like i was RE-LIVING their struggle… it is not til the next day that i am able to write or make sense of what transpired this evening…

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Author: Barak adé Soleil

creative practitioner, independent consultant and curator. making dance, performance art and theatre. working within community.

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