ANOTHER BUILDING dancing: Making Quarantine and Savoneta
My heritage informs both my artistic expressions and my worldview.
And if I identify myself as Caribbean/Antillean, my world is a
reflection of the complexity that comes from being a member of a
crossroads culture, and the multi-cultural baggage that it entails. I
strive to tell a story, without the urge to explain the plot or for the
audience to 'get it.' I cherish the questions and the unexpected. I aim
to give voice to an intense desire to create something new out of what
is already perceived to be fact. I don't try to recreate, but rather to
'blend all the ingredients' or influences, and make something new,
something 'Creole' in its truest sense. This is where my work is most
typically Caribbean. As a member of a 'crossroads' culture, I am
constantly negotiating the links between tradition and modernity,
realism and the supernatural, colonial and post-colonial. (Christa 2002,
Film and history together beg for meaning and interpretation. I
didn't fully realize the ramifications of putting these stories up on
screen. The added meaning inserted itself while filming and afterwards
through the eyes of an audience; even I come away with many
questions: How do I combine my urge to educate with my desire to make an
artistic interpretation of history? How do I motivate viewers to do some
of their own research (by visiting the Web site) after the film? How do
I tell a visual story that remains open to interpretation? Can dance
even tell the story I want to tell, or is it too ephemeral? I initially
believed all of this was possible—that is why I took on this project.
Yet I wonder: Do I need to provide more background information, or shall
I leave the films as they are&mash;artistic interpretations?
Writing this essay about my film series (ANOTHER BUILIDING
dancing), which places narrative dance in and around historical
buildings from the Dutch-African Diaspora, proved difficult. Obviously,
I thought about what I wanted for the films when I conceived of them; I
talked about the meaning in several Q & A sessions after screenings; I
wrote funding requests; I communicated my intentions to my collaborators
(the costume designer, director of photography, composer, and editor).
In all of these efforts to get the films going, nothing challenged me
more than transferring the clarity I found in creating the films into
writing. How could I, on paper, combine the many elements and sources of
my work? How could I communicate my motivation? In what context could I
place it? I hadn't really thought through these issues until this point.
After all, I made the films within one year, leaving little time for
On many levels, I just stumbled upon this series and felt right away
that this is exactly who I am and what I am supposed to do. These films
combine all that I am interested in—history, anthropology, dance, and
architecture. When I found the series, I just ran with it: fast! Writing
this essay, then, gives me the chance to step back and think about what
I created. In doing so, I hope to show how personal history "motives"
are inflected with and informed by larger post-colonial histories.
Thoughts, Goals, and Process
I set out to make each film in the series stand on its own as a work
of art. Ideally, these pieces talk about the past without preaching.
They also, I hope, spark an interest in investigating the past, leading
young and older audiences to a website that provides background
information on place, architecture, music, and dance.
I started the series with what I know best: the history of my native
island Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. The first two films in the
series, Quarantine and Savoneta, take place in Curaçao.
The island was (and is) dry and unsuitable for plantation agriculture,
but it grew to prominence because of its natural harbor, Willemstad,
which enabled it to become a trade (smuggling) center and slave depot
(Oostindie 2005, 3). It was during the occupation of Brazil (1624 to
1654) that the Dutch became involved in the slave trade and took
interest in Curaçao.
In designing the shoot, I made a book full of images that gave a
close impression of the look I wanted to achieve. And in creating the
aesthetic, I juxtaposed the intense history of the place with the beauty
of the landscape. Cinematographer Dolph van Stapele and I chose to use
mostly a single handheld camera to create a more intimate feeling.
The sound includes live sounds and composed music, both of which I
used to convey a sense of place (to create authenticity) and to make it
contemporary. I chose my own music (mostly original music from the
island) and also asked composer Vernon Reid to create a score that made
it timeless and global but not connected to a particular place. In
Quarantine, the main music is Tambu, a form of spoken social
commentary (hailing from the 17th century) that has much in common with
rap, which also shows up in the film.
For the choreography, I looked for dance that combined both old and
new movements or referred in some way to the past. What I aimed to
accomplish in Quarantine (and Savoneta) was to have the
dance and story take place in the present time, looking back. The
performers in both narratives are visitors to the place, and the
confrontation with the history within and outside the walls triggers a
journey through time. We witness what happens when they are confronted
with the past, and as several narratives and viewpoints take place at
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