|Dialogues on Contemporary Dance: Interview with Kepha Oiro|
|Contemporary Dance in East Africa|
|The Dance Montage Training Program|
|Research in / through dance|
Dialogues on Contemporary Dance:
Interview with Kepha Oiro / Contemporary Dancer and Choreographer from Nairobi (Kenya)
Kepha Oiro is a professional afro contemporary dancer informally trained in traditional dance, Afrofusion and contemporary dance techniques, between 2001-2009, through residencies and workshops occasionally held in Kenya and South Africa. He also mentored into social work for the “Njia Yetu project” (a street children rehabilitation organization) between periods of 2003-2004, followed by active involvement into social justice activities regarding rights and welfare for children in the society, in 2005-2006. He co-founded three contemporary dance groups in Nairobi: Kunja Dance Theatre, Alama Dance Group and Tuchangamke group, between the periods of 2005-2008. Kepha Oiro has collaborated in and co-choreographed contemporary pieces such as Loud Silence with Alama Dance Company and Urbanite with Kunja Dance Theatre, and participated in the African choreographic encounters in Paris and Tunisia in 2006 and 2008. He performed and conducted workshops in several festivals in Africa, Europe and South-American countries. Currently, he is artistic director of a new contemporary performing group known as Tuchangamke group, that conducts research into movement fusion in ethnic African communities, based at the Kenya National Theatre, Nairobi, and is the artistic director of the Dance Marathon initiative.
Nadine Siegert: Today I reread the article you send to me by this Kenyan journalist (Muchemi Mwendwa), and I found it very interesting how he reacted on the first critical comments on his text. At least he realized that it is good to talk and to discuss things, and not only to write his opinion.
Kepha Oiro: Yes, I think he also did it for his benefit, listening to other's views, to get to know their reactions. I think if he would write another article, it would be different. He is now informed, maybe in the method of collecting information. If it is so, then it succeeded. Now, before writing something he can research effectively, before putting something down and mentioning people's names. Especially, when you mention someone's name, you have to have done your research; try to make an interview with that person. As a journalist you need to be very much informed.
Work - here and there
NS: What brought you to Germany?
KO: My main driving point is what I saw in 2008. I was sort of in need to find new forms of expression. And I thought of looking beyond movement, trying to use a different form, a different media, which is different from the body and can also relate to the body – and this is when I saw multimedia, how video is interwoven with the dancer on the stage, with a team on stage, the team in video get to be interwoven, to be as one conversation and dialogue. That was something interesting, and I thought I could transfer some of my thoughts and ideas from my physical reality on stage and be able to get it to the virtual stage which is the video. I would play with these two kinds of stages, the virtual and the real.
That stimulated and got me the urge to learn more and get some of the knowledge behind the work of Stephanie Thiersch,who fortunately happens to be working with intermediary disciplines. By seeing her works through her website, I thought it to myself to be interesting. Luckily we got invited with James Mweu to perform the duet Urbanite at the Globalize Cologne Festival. Within this period, I talked to her and she suggested that I come back and work with her on a production. I agreed, and specifically requesting to work with her on her processes of intermediary disciplines and how she functions with it. Sort of a mentorship and also an opportunity for me to work on my solo too, which I hoped that through her coaching, we might get some intermediary aspects to it, Seeing how we can work on lights, music, text and have that recorded for use in the video as a reference point. Always having this as a kind of a reservoir, an archive, through which, we of course get to talk and to reflect.
That was one point, but the other one was also to meet artists and dancers, independent artists whose works are what you can call ‘underground’ than mainstream, and also choreographers, who are well supported, through major dance institutions like Tanzhaus Köln and Pact Zollverein in Essen. I tried to make contact with them all, and also trying to see possibility of linking Berlin with its school for contemporary dance there, as a good network for the Dance Montage Training Program. The idea is to try to link the training program in Nairobi because one of our aim and goal is to create an institution, a school, try to link it through programs with institutions of training that already have their own structures, and their own developed philosophy. It is about to connecting and facilitating some kind of exchange. It has been interesting and so far things look good, I have identified institutions that might be of help. It is just a matter of dialogue now, the initial point is talking.
NS: Would you say that your residency in Germany was successful in these two lines? Having a mentorship on these intermedia practices?
KO: I don't want to use the word successful, I would say it was a start, because it is really a long process. This is part of me building up for a production that I'm going to work on, and I like to work with many people on stage. I haven't had the opportunity to do that, I did it in the past as part of a small pilot production, which turned out to be difficult, it was not funded, but now I would like to do something strong and more structured on stage with ten people and intermediary will be a part of that. So this is a start of understanding how these things can work. In my own context I will and need to make it some sort of relevance, giving it the theme it deserves, so that I am not merely translating five months into a copy and paste, but more in the orientation and understanding, that will prove useful later on. So it continues in that sense, Stephanie will be invited to come to Nairobi and continue this relationship of work with local artists, who I might identify as future collaborators. So it is a start, and this start has been successful. We are in good relationship with her. I say we in the context of Tuchangamke. I try not to disassociate myself from Tuchangamke, because anything artistic I venture, starts with Tuchangamke.