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Each Thursday evening in May, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales are hosting Lates: PITCH BLACK, an online festival of art, film, and music that aims to celebrate Blackness.

In this blog, June Campbell-Davies tells us more about what to expect from her commissioned performance piece, titled 'Sometimes We're Invisible' that will be featured in the first evening of Lates: PITCH BLACK on 6 May 2021.

For more information on Lates: PITCH BLACK and to purchase a ticket from just £6 per event, click here.

 

The source of my piece came from an experimental work I created a few years ago around exploring the presence of black Victorians, its was a solo I performed using the Movement style that lends itself to Japanese Butoh, where the movements are extremely controlled [slow motion] or intensified [changes in dynamics], allowing the performer to internalize, transform momentarily through this luminal process. And so from the start, I decided that whatever movement material I created, I would use this form of movement Style throughout the piece. Which is a challenge for dancer and audiences alike to stay connected and absorbed.

The Space in Gallery 4 is an open area giving space & light I envisaged my work centered between the organ and the large oil painting.  So when in March 2021 I was able to begin rehearsals in the Museum, I wasn’t sure how I was going to present my solo-My movements alone couldn’t sum up what I had unearthed, I turned my focus to selecting photos for the projector in the hope that what I couldn’t convey in movement the images would help to cement the subject matter.

I knew then that I didn’t want to appear already dressed in Victorian dress, but was drawn to the African print fabric I wanted to start there and explore that journey, entering and exiting the space. Connecting to the rope on the floor spread out into 5 or 6 branches signifying family lineage or tribe. Once that was established I felt something was need even before that, maybe representing a kind of sculptural, spiritual mythical

Entity, Which came out of the silver representing crossing water, refined metals.  The West African deity Yemoja in Yoruba culture, originates from Nigerian folkloric religion and is associated with water, purity, fertility the giver of life and death, which has traveled with those from captivity to the Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba & Southern states of American. Their belief system clashing & mixing with Christianity. Silver being a kind of refining metal symbolically connects with me in terms of what Africans & my Ancestors had to go through over 400 years of Slavery.

But it's never clear cut the stain runs deep for those of us who are of mixed heritage, my father's family tree reveals that his grandparents and great grandparents on his father's side were Scottish and French plantation owners of Grenada. Those that remained in Grenada after the abolition of slavery were disinherited if they married outside their race, and so Religion played an important part in trying to convert enslaved people to Christianity and trying to keep the races apart. The wealth generated, helped to build  Churches and Cathedrals, the Stately homes and mansions in Britain all through cultivating & processing Sugar Cane.

So later in the choreography the book I hold up is woven in red and reads ‘ Objects of Desire’ and symbolically serves as a bible, pushing down and suffocating all involved in this form of human trafficking, chained and packed close like sardines. Branded separated given new names. forced to give up their religious practices and take up Christianity. 

So the piece begins by shedding off one layer revealing another and putting on garments in a kind of ritualistic journey. So as the rehearsal process developed I began to collect items that may be useful to experiment with.  At first, I only had a notebook, music system, a blanket to sit on the floor to warm up, improvising with short movement sequences.  

In the next sessions I brought in more props like rope and used it to outline the space, to create a right angle. Another piece of rope was placed on the floor to use as an umbilical cord. And decided that this rope was where I would explore ‘the Struggle’ giving birth, the enslavement, the suffering, the torture. All in the name of sugar

The following session, I needed to find another stimulus to help generate more material,  there were a few chairs in the space and so I used these just to play with improvisation, it was not my plan to have the chairs in the piece but eventually they became symbolic elements and helped to define the space, and restrict the performance area, helping me to drive the narrative forward. The chairs became landmarks, continents, and seats of power as I moved around them. I explored my solo dance within the triangle [Trans- Atlantic] sometimes with the dress and other times without, I couldn’t decide yet until near the filming date. By then sections seemed to organically drop into place. The dressing and undressing became part of the ritual and transformation.

During the early periods of rehearsals, I used pre-recorded music to help create atmosphere & develop short choreographic moments. I knew for the actual performance I wanted a soundscape that had voice, text & natural elements. So I contacted my daughter.

The Soundscape was created by  Ffion Campbell-Davies, a Welsh multidisciplinary artist based in London.  Our conversations were through email for this project, both of us busy with other jobs we didn’t really need to communicate at long lengths because we share similar interests and we have worked together on several projects so there is an understanding and respect for each other's practice. Ffion also gave me choreographic notes and directions which was crucial at this stage. The Soundscape really helped to bring the entire piece to life adding another layer and giving the body of work context, alongside projected images. Text punctuated like bullet points from Professor Sir Hilary Beckles's speech on Reparations stung the air like deadly darts.

Now in Victorian dress, I leave the Space, An imprint from the past. The wheels of fate keep turning & turning. I exit.

Lates: PITCH BLACK is presented in partnership with Artes Mundi.

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