2. Waking The Spirit
Writer Jenny Davis explores the journey of her collaboration with Ape, Ghanian dancer:
So this has been a collaboration and collide of minds, practice and culture. We come to the same brink as artists, and different things tip us over the edge. That compulsion to create, to breathe as artists, to inhabit spaces, be it in our minds, as story, with our hands, feet and music, is the thing that propels us, binds us, partners us.
I watched Apey perform, and it was a ritual, an undertaking from his side. A cleared yard in Ghana, friends, musicians, and then the hallowed space. I watched him interpret my words, a short story about severance, and separation. And then some. Apey called on the ancestors. Ashanti and Benin. Danced the yeve and ajogbo. The Ashanti movement means Wherever you find yourself. You talk through your actions. You dance with words. You converse, opinion and deed expressed through the body, and felt in the feet.
I watched Apey, grounded, centred, connected to the earth and ancestors, and a belief in the integrity of his dance. A dance about reconnecting, remembering ancestors in times of need, times of poor connection.
And the irony of ours is laid bare, as Broadband internet, shatters and interrupts ours constantly.
Although the dance and artistry is real, so are the challenges of our connecting, and my preoccupations belie my westernised privilege.
Apey dances through the screens of my smartphone, and I pad, like Chinese mirrors.
My Renault in the background, reminds me of the eternal wrangling of making a living, as an artist and making the monthly car payment.
Michael Jackson's instrumental version 'Liberian Girl' overlays Apey's accompanying music.
It gives more texture to the performance. My act of seeing. There's no pretence here. This navigating through screens, makes me as much a voyeur, a spectator.
A commercial nod to an idea of Africa, renders the contrivance complete.
A click of the button, and I have all the fibre optic I need. I can eat as much data, as I want. We are gluttonous by comparison. Apey on the other hand has to budget, prearrange and eek out his internet usage.
It's a luxury to be introspective. Our gaze can afford to be as inward as we wish, pressed tightly to our navels.
Our preoccupations can be as obscure as we wish. It only matters that it is art, cause we deign it so.
As Black Westernised artists, we can still indulge in omniscience. We have more prerogatives that we care to notice.
As a Black artist born in the UK, it always feel as if one is writing to get oneself back, an act of self recovery.
I write to find myself, and I write to find my way home.
And watching Apey. I find myself spooling back to a story, a beginning that binds us. We still have the same origins. And it still calls me. The story of the Gold Coast, the middle passage, lies dormant in my consciousness. As if sea salt air is a sleeping re-memory that can conjure itself in my writing; in my stories of restlessness and mothers.
Watching Apey, I saw and felt that he was connected in such an enviable way, through chant and pounding feet, he is kissing distance from an ancestor.
And so what can we trade in this partnership? What do we both gain? Access, money and opportunities and avenues and resources seem like an obvious answer, but I want to think there is something deeper this will give me, something that breaks through the walls of my skewed privilege and internalised upbringing.
There is something enviable, and can't be quantified when you have been raised in a country where the majority of people, the rich and the poor, the thieves and the judges all look like you.
Then you can just get on with the business of being a reasonably decent human being.
You can write about aardvarks as well as ancestors.
That's a different kind of privilege. That's a blessing.
Apey performs a dance of reconnection, which pauses, freezes, and judders to a sudden stop.