Intriguing new dance work looks at representation of women in art

Wednesday 4 September 2013, 10:37

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This season marks a new collaboration between the Cardiff-based dance artist Jo Fong and Sherman Cymru.

In her role as associate artist for the theatre Jo will be developing and choreographing several touring productions in the coming years.

But this month sees the screening of her new piece Witness - a documentary offering a fascinating insight into the lives of three very different dancers.

Ino Riga, Eeva-Maria Mutka and Annabeth Berkeley talk openly about what the process of dance and performance means to them as women, their relationships with their bodies and how they feel about being watched as they dance.

A series of stills taken from Witness A series of stills taken from Witness. Photo: Filipe Alcada

The project began as a large-scale three-screen dance installation and interweaves interviews and performances from the three women into a single screen narrative.

Jo told me that the representation of female performers is something she has become increasingly more interested in during a 20-year career that has seen her working with Rosas, DV8 Physical Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Mark Bruce Company, Young Vic Theatre, Igloo and Quarantine Theatre.

"I met these incredible performers, each at different stages in their careers, and thought it would be interesting to hear in their own words about what it feels like to be on display and have portraits taken of them while they dance," she said.

"I wanted to create a choreographic portrait of each individual using their own physical language and their translation of what dance is to them, and they were incredibly generous with their stories.

"There is an intimacy in each portrait which is quite revealing and exposing and they are as idiosyncratic as the women who dance them."

Three screens showing the dancers in Witness Three screens showing the dancers. Photo: Filipe Alcada

Jo saw something of herself in Lost Dog performer Ino Rega, a women she views as "a phenomenal yet humble performer, extremely determined and prepared to take lots of risks".

In contrast she found the portrait of Eeva-Maria, from the organisation Arts Care Gofal Celf, refreshing in her obvious connection with the natural world, with much of the portrait shot in west Wales.

The third portrait of Annabeth, a younger member of National Dance Company Wales, was the most revealing, Jo felt.

"She was quite full of doubt, which I found quite beautiful, but I did feel some responsibility to maintain her dignity while keeping it as honest as possible.

"Portraiture was a useful tool to access the themes I was interested in: the representation of women in art and in particular dance and the line between performance and non-performance grounded by honesty in performance.

"Other themes nurtured in the process were: the beauty of trying, preparing and the psychological journey of each dancer.

"The films draw a fine line between what is real or performed and ask how is it to be watched or exhibited."

Dancer Annabeth Berkeley in the documentary Witness Dancer Annabeth Berkeley in the documentary. Photo: Filipe Alcada

Witness was made in collaboration with filmmakers Filipe Alcada and Dawn Collins.

Jo Fong's Witness – Portraits of Women Who Dance will be at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff from 26-28 September 7pm. It is suitable for ages 12+.

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