feature: movements, gender and rebellion – “you might think i’m crazy but i’m serious”

October 13, 2014

I started my dance company, Artincidence, in October 2003. And since then, I define myself as a choreographer and a performer. However, it is only recently, since my four new performances in March, 2010, that I can say that my creation contributes to the construction of my own identity: a hybrid identity, without frontiers or any categorization of gender or race.

By Annabel Guérédrat, AFROPUNK Contributor *

The four performances that successively led me to explode the myth of identity are the following:
A freak show for S., a solo created in March 2010 as a tribute to the Black Venus, Sarah Baartman
Iyam Tara, a duet with Hyacinthe Abdoulaye Tobio, a choreographer from Chad in November 2011. The title means “Let me emancipate myself” in sahrr, a language spoken in the south of N’Djamena in Chad.
Women part 1 and 2, a diptych: the first part took place in Rio de Janeiro in June, 2012 & the second part in Martinique in January, 2013
A Woman, a solo created in March, 2014: “I am an enjoy woman in an aquarium.”

These performances led me to reflect about two questions.
1. How does my dance become a theoretical and political practice of issues of Black Feminism, Gender and Post-Colonialism?
2. How have my current performances contributed to destroy and rebuild my own identity?

Some images can be found within the video teaser of the duet until minute 1.58 Women, part one.

1. Am I a Black Woman ?

To affirm that I am. To affirm that I am a woman. To affirm that I am a black woman.
I refer word for word to the beginning of our duet Women, in part one RJ with Monica Da Costa.
“I am a woman; I’m not a man. And you, Monica? I am a woman. I am a black woman. Are you a black woman? Yes, do you have any doubts? »
However, before I could assert my Black femininity as well as the power of my vulnerability, I went through several stages. The first fundamental stage is my solo A freak show for S. I go back four years in time

2. From “is she an error?” to “I am a black woman”.

“A freak show for S.” marked an anchor point in my identitarian construction, by exploding the myth of identity. (at the Library of the University Schoelcher in Martinique during a seminar about “Gender and Society” organized by the Research Centre for Local Authorities in the Caribbean, October 4, 2013)

(at the Plaza da Sé, behind the Caixa Cultural, in Sao Paulo, in the context of the Contemporary Dance Festival, November 2, 2012)

3rd version, shorter: in Montreal as part of the festival In The Round, when I was in residency at Studio 303 in January 2011.

This performance needed to go through different phases: I initially hand wrote, in a process of automatic writing the text that underlie the entire performance. Everything is said in the text: error to be a female, be a mixed race, to be there at the place where I position myself, error to be (to exist).
« Attention je suis maintenant je suis actuellement arriver à sa mémoire arriver pourtant arriver c’est maintenant je suis arrivée ha c’est ça là tu es ici dans l’urgence ici arriver je suis arrivée fille jeu garçon je suis arrivée à ta façon place placement erreur de là »
“Be careful/Watch out I’m now I’m currently reach to her memory reach yet reach it’s now I’m reaching ha that’s it you’re in a hurry here reach I achieved girl game boy I achieved in your way place placement error to be there.”
I’m in my own self-sufficiency of enunciating and at the same time I build through my text, a path of body of mixed woman –that is to say, an ambivalent and ambiguous woman– and I value the ephemeral fragility of cultures by using different languages (Creole, German, Italian, Portuguese from Brazil and French). It is my voice and my body revolting and taking over.
In order to write this solo, I forced myself upon the image of the woman with a hyper-sexed body. Then the solo has been enriched through my journeys, through the places where I went to perform it: while I was announced as the wild animal on stage from Martinique in Montreal, I became a dancing energy incorporated by a djin (a spirit) in Marrakech, and I became a “chocolate griot (storyteller)” in Ouagadougou.
So moving without being stopped by geopolitical borders or cultural differences has allowed me to exist through this solo in a sense of ‘being out of myself’ with the support and the testimony of the audience. The first step. A very important one.
“Being out of oneself” goes through the cry of “I am”. I proposed this cry to Ghyslaine Gau and Ana Pi, to create Women (a new performance after A freak show for S.) –what I called the score of ‘self-portrait’– a reference to Anna Halprin, an artist that I met in September, 2010 in SF, California. Because for me, you can’t get in touch with anybody else if you don’t start by knowing how you’re and where you’re here first.

The score consisted on saying our own sentence of self-portrait “I am” in front of a selected spectator while not taking our eyes off him/her. As if I told him: “Hey, I’m telling you something about me. So look at me please.” This is also about the capacity we have (or not have) of looking into somebody without identity issues. To focus on “what did he/she say?” rather than on “Who is he/she?”, or “Where does he/she come from?” How –at the same time– we keep a contemplative look on someone’s presence. About developing a series of landscaped feelings from him/her rather than reducing him/her to a problem of identity.
Choosing three different languages / is the same principle as the one employed during the solo where several languages coexisted. They are three different ways chosen by each of us for saying ‘I am.’ It is thus about showing that there are three different Black women and during the creation process.

And I quote Audre Lorde:
Interdependence between (Black) women opens up the way to freedom, a freedom that gives you the autority to put an “I” in front of “to be”, not for consumption purposes but for creation. This is the difference between the passive and the active form of the verb “to be”.

And I quote Audre Lorde again:
As Black women, we shared many similar experiences. Why does this common experience not get us closer instead of throwing ourselves over the other´s throats with weapons sharpened by the knowledge that we have of each other? The anger I have when I’m going to approach another Black woman who does not meet my immediate need for an adequate response is a deep and cruel anger, chosen only by despair. This anger hides the pain of seing us so divided when instead we should be united – my pain produced by the possibility that she may not need me a much as I need her or the pain procuded by her looking at me with the jaded eyes of those who hate us.

“You do not pull down the master’s house with the tools of the masters”. I quote again Audre Lorde.

In the process of creation of Women, I wanted to literally apply this sentence by calling two other Black performers like me and see how this time, with other two people and not alone, we could be together. We had been in chaos, in intensity but also in honesty to tackle the Black Feminism in a different way We shared intimacy, experiencing pleasure and comfort by being in less urgency, by not feeling guilty, by enjoying doing small things, by giving us a lot of freedom.

The ‘I am’ of departure is a way to thwart any form of invisibility or resignation. Often in France, Caribbean women, women of immigrant origins or women from colonization times, go unnoticed. It is a sort of happening by speaking. It’s a way of resistance. And after, it’s to reach an ecstatic form, a form of enjoyment to assert ourselves –as if there were two steps: the first step is anger/the second one is ecstasy.

3. I am a woman

While I was creating A freak show for S. I met Hyacinthe Abdoulaye Tobio, a choreographer from Chad during a meeting of African dancers in October 2010 in Bamako.
We decided to work together. We wrote a duet, called “Iyam tara”. It means “let me set me free” in sahhrr language, a language spoken in the south of Ndjamena: Our two common references were: Kazuo Ohno, the Japanese master of Butoh and Augusto Boal the Brazilian artistic director of the Forum Theatre.

I arrived in N’djamena in December 2010. We drew our own self-portraits to get to better know each other. We felt free to dance anywhere, by investing different places in the city. Our bodies get individualized very quickly: first, distanced from each other; second, face to face and then in contact, in fusion. Each day, we performed in a different place, a new territory of art that we invented in situ. We were like nomads. Everything, every situation, every place became a invitation to perform: the river; the mud; a family plot (traditional house); and especially our accomodation, an annex of the hotel used as laundry; there, we used the court as a theater (of life) without scene and we took artistic part by exploring; performing; experimenting; confronting; by trying the instantaneous composition in real time. Everything was an excuse to create: We performed with the sand, the chairs, the tables, fragments of engine, the prayer carpet , a water tap, bowls in a muddle, wires for clothes.

We were totally autonomous. –independent from cultural centers in Ndjamena and from the French Institute. Recovery, diversion and resourcefulness, true in daily life of survival in Ndjamena, became real in our performances. And our relationship (Hyacinthe and I), was firmly based on the exchange with the aim to create – in a utopian shared desire– to invent an area without territories.

It is also by working with Hyacinthe, in his own country, in Chad, that I feel how his body (and mine by a mirror effect), as an artist in a country of extreme political situation, became a miraculous weapon. Since his body was really precarious, the same body became a mixture of extreme emotions, abilities and intelligence but also a political body against the rulers.

And with his body, he is more than a dancer performer; with his body, he fabricates his own history and History. His body becomes his most valuable possession and where it was suppressed because there is no shelter to resist and protect, his body becomes a claim.

But our relationship got reversed in gender & crystallized in the race at the time of writing the choreographic object in France. When it was necessary to take artistic decisions and to constantly rehearse in dance studios, and by this I mean institutionalized locations, I had to wear black pants (the pants) and short hair and he wore his dress of Violet. I became the male executioner and Hyacinthe became the female victim. At the same time I became the victim with the black tee-shirt that covered my face.

How did we go throughout our duet, from the happy experience of sharing sensitive experiences to the appearance of difficult nodes about relationships between black men and mixed women as those relationships of love and repulsion at the same time, between France and Africa: “There has always been a simultaneous exclusion and belonging, love and hate, attraction and rivalry between France and Africa.

At our expense, we slowly shifted from a rich encounter thatprovided us with joy in life and resistance in our artistic act, towards a reversed relationship based on race, class and gender: I became “the” racist and sexist macho and he, the black female scorned victim.

We were deadlocked, not being able to overcome the problem of postcolonial domination.

The only way out we found to get out of this impasse was to perform this reversed gendered and racialized relationship on stage. Our dance had been an act of strength and resistance, now it became an act of resilience.

Therefore, it was impossible to really feel like a black woman in this situation. And it was in this situation when I felt the call of the Black feminist movement and felt the urgency to write a new piece drawing on the texts of Audre Lorde. I learned to express my anger, for my own growth. But as reconstructive surgery, and not blame”. I was feeling the hate in Hyacinthe’s eyes when he looked at me in anger, out of himself, threatening me to leave the project and that the duo does not lead: “It is even harder to confront the rejection of a Black woman (that white rejection) who sees in my face what her own mirror sends her back who is afraid to recognize herself in the shape of my eyes “.

4. Yes, I am a black woman

Along with the creation of the duo “Iyam tara”, my solo continued running – first with a tribute to the Black Venus, Sarah Baartman. In most contexts in which I performed the solo, I represented the “Colored French Caribbean beast of stage”. This excluded my femininity by locking me in a negative sexual definition. My Black female body became not a woman but an animal, a hyper sexual and aggressive body. It seems that I finally and briskly lent my body to the myth of the Black Venus.

So I decided to change the title to turn it into an autofiction: Sarah Baartman became “S.” my grandmother, Sarah/ my mother Simone …). With a reference to a genealogical line of women, I myself became a woman. But then, what was I, French, Jewish, Russian or Black?

And that is in Marrakech –in an Arab-Muslim male-dominated environment– where the solo took a different turn that was completely unexpected when I exploded the myth identity of the Black Venus. On March, 8th2012, the International Women’s Day, I attend in the morning a meeting / debate whose theme is ‘Women Artists, Revolutionary Women’ with female artists from Tunisia, Morocco and Madagascar. Questioning the gendered and political body through the performance of erotic potential power on the stage – directly connected to our sexual fulfillment in our intimacy, I shocked these Arab women artists that are not used to expose these questions in public.

Then in the afternoon, on the Jamaa El Fna place: the Freak show for S. takes another meaning. The 400 Marrachis men who ate and looked stunned atm y performance at the same time cheer the arrival of a djin (spirit). They did not see a sexual performer claiming his blackness and eroticism. They see energy and my body that lends itself to a ritual as an intercessor (between the world of the dead and the living) extracting this dancing energy.

5. “I am a black woman,” becomes “a dancing energy.”

In August 2007, when I went to Haiti, for the 1st workshop with twenty others choreographers from the Caribbean areas, I was publicly and violently accused of mot being Caribbean enough, of even having a white mentality. How could I be rather a European girl and not much of a Caribbean? Feeling trapped by the community allegiance, I play a butoh performance about the executioner- victim reports embodying the two roles and the next day they accuse me, this time in the Voodoo tradition, that I have awakened a Death it was absolutely necessary for me to be initiated in voodoo rituals to channel my excess of energy, my power.

This at this point when I come back to the writings of Audre Lorde. Black or Brown Female, what does make me different from you, White Woman? On my return from Brazil (but already in Haiti in August 2007/ then in a Beninese family in Seattle in December 2010) in June 2012 –and before in my Afro-Brazilian company of Orisha dance, I knew I was dancing on Orishas’s behalf, that I invoked those divinities in my dance, as in Candomblé ceremonies or in my butoh dance. I am also baptized Catholic, am Jewish from my mother side of the family but still my images of the Goddesses are no longer exclusively white, Western or Judeo-Christian. I recognize Yemanja, the warrior goddesses of Vodun, the Amazons of Dahomey and the warrior women of Dan.

Audre Lorde goes further:
When white women, what’s more for White feminists, reject our black ancestors, they devalue the source from which they have learned to love.
So black feminism is not the black face of white feminism (this isn’t carnival!)
Black women have specific and legitimate issues that affect our lives as Black women, and to examine these issues does not make us less Black.

It is then when I urgently also feel the need to be and share with other Black women by going to Brazil.

6. I am a black woman and I wish to be surrounded by other black women

“no, but you are not really black”

Videoclip of the trio Women, part two with the sequence of t-shirts from 7’21 to 8’42

Women is therefore a performative act, which combines singing, dancing, writings of Audre Lorde and some we wrote ourselves, where boundaries cancel each other among different fields of creation.
Why am I angry during my performative acts? I get angry when people say that it is futile to write on my black feminism because I’m not really Black. I am angry when people say that my performance is not dance or that it can be summarized with the words ‘animal’ and ‘sex’. And I’m angry when people say “you’re a dancer from Martinique: you’d better have to dance, rather than to think.”
Then my anger goes beyond me when I show that I appropriate my own feminine power.

“The “queerness” has to be black, but cleared skin; our own shame of being light skinned but black; a mediation performed by gender between queerness and shame (Harris 2008:211)

Getting rid of any shame or guilt “to not be quite black” to take hold of black Feminism on the stage. But also on sharing with the audience our feelings and confusion of genders.
To overcome resistance, fears, the binary question in Frantz Fanon’s sense of “black skins and white masks” in order to show our lines of flight and our excesses.
And to also have the big pleasure of dancing together; the pleasure of wearing stiletto heels, as in a erotic game, to feel powerful with stiletto heels. To enjoy our posture and our movements with stiletto heels.

Video sample of the new solo A Woman Step to the National Dance Centre, Paris, November 2013

7. Finally … to be proud of my hybridity without borders

Should I be categorized as a “crazy girl” simply because I create in a hybrid way without borders? What is the difference between a mad girl and a not mad” girl? Who invents the imaginary line to make the difference? If the process is schizophrenic, then I fully agree with the definition of schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze:

Schizophrenia we must seize it as a process: a rupture, a burst, a breakthrough that breaks the continuity of personality, resulting in a kind of journey through a more real, intense and scary world

And here I quote Janet Jackson in her song entitled “The pleasure principle”: “You might think I’m crazy but I’m serious”.

8. The shift: from the absolute insulation to the relative insulation: retour to multipolarities & a hybrid human being

Choreography is foremost traveling for me.

This shift, it is physical because we’re talking about dance. A ‘dancing energy’ in Eugenio Barba´s sense. But it is also in the definition of choreography: are my pieces choreographed in the sense of choreographic objects or are they performative acts or rituals, or all three at once?

This shift is also geographical. The way my body feels the movement taking the plane. From Martinique to Montpellier, via San Francisco, Seattle, Liverpool, Montreal, Ndjamena. Then Marrakech, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo. Back to Martinique, Ouagadougou, Chateau Thierry.

This shift is racial and gendered: From being a white woman, a nasara’ in order to designate the ‘toubab’, that is to say  the ‘white occidental man,’ in Chad, being masculinized to a Métis or Black woman in Martinique

This shift is also geopolitical. From my position of French/ European to my position in Martinique, a French Caribbean, and finally a native” of the French Republic.

This shift is spiritual: the way I shifted my beliefs, from being Judeo-Christian towards the recognition of new Deities: I recognized my Black Goddesses Yoruba and my entities / Orishas.

This shift also takes place at the level of the cells, where my corporeality becomes insulation, a ‘porous and relative insulation’ (Sloterdijk), that gets enriched by diverse influences, that absorbs, feeds and positively rejects what intoxicates or confines. I also live this daily in the somatic practices during the workshops for women that I offer in Body Mind Centering with the Women’s Union of Martinique:

How do you change your chemistry? Your consciousness? Your constitution? The way you approach your life? So that you’re comfortable, more present, more in relationship. (Cohen, fondatrice du Body Mind Centering)

* Annabel Guérédrat, performer choreographer from Martinique:

96 rue du Belvédère

Les Hauts de Terreville

Schoelcher  / MARTINIQUE
+ 33 6 96 28 75 10

*”open studios” of “Valeska and you”, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th of October 2014, National Center of Dance, Paris (France)

*”work in progress” of “Colored women in a white world”, 29th of November 2014 (8pm), Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin (Germany)
COLORED WOMAN IN A WHITE WORLD WORKSHOP PRESENTATION BY ANNABEL GUÉRÉDRAT In 2013 Annabel Guérédrat opened the festival Black Lux – Home Festival from Black Perspectives at Ballhaus Naunynstraße with her trio Women Part II – you might think I’m crazy, but I’m serious. In November she starts developing a new project here, titled Colored Woman in a White World, with female artists from Berlin. Her main source of inspiration is the autobiography with the same title by Mary Church Terell (1863­1954). Women of color are invited to describe their impressions of their current lives. After 130 years – are they still “women of color in a white world”? Do they still feel that’s what they are and how do they deal with that? On stage, Annabel Guérédrat is concerned with intimacy and honesty – focusing on the women’s very personal stories as well as the motivation to relate experiences as Black women. An event by Kultursrprünge at Ballhaus Naunynstraße gemeinnützige GmbH. Funded by the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin.

*”A freak show for S.” of “WE ARE TOMORROW”, 17th & 18th of December 2014, Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin (Germany)

As part of WE ARE TOMORROW in December, Annabel Guérédrat will also be presenting her performance piece A freakshow for S., a performative involvement with Sarah Baartman.