Written By: Frankie Red, Human Interests and Community Engagement
Ahead of the grand display of performances for Miami Art Week December 1-3rd, throughout the month of November, The Adrienne Arsht Center produced community engagement initiatives with artists of multidisciplinary mediums, disciplines and art forms for an Artist Residency with some of the cast and creative team members from the production, “The Head and The Load.” Premiering during Miami Art week. Not only did I have the pleasure of serving as The Project Coordinator for this Project and assisting with residency logistics and facilitation, but I was also able to participate and explore the creative process as an artist— and I’ve got the full scoop for you right here.
The Head and the Load is a multi-disciplinary work created in collaboration with South African artists and led by William Kentridge. The production is the story about Africans in World War I. It is an exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War that combines music, dance, film projections, mechanized sculptures and shadow play to illuminate the untold story of the millions of African porters and carriers who served and in many cases died for British, French and German forces. Here’s the link to the website of The Head and the Load for you to explore: http://theheadandtheload.com/
Using The Head and The Load as a springboard for unpacking the collaborative creative process, artists partaking in the residency were able to: participate in a series of activities in dance, music, and vocal, as well as artistic group exercises to form their own creative process.
By exploring various forms of art and creativity with other artists and creatives from diverseartistic backgrounds— the creative team shared their vulnerable experiences while subsequently allowing others to discover their OWN stories— within themselves. The Residencies were separated into several cohorts and spread out throughout the month to offer opportunities to various forms of artists in diverse communities.
While the teachings were tailored to artists and creatives, the South African Creative Team — Theater Extraordinaire Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Freelance Dancer Thulani Chauke, and Actor Sibahle Mangena- still stood by their mission by diving into the spectrum of their rich History, and African traditions during the First World War.
With group discussions, readings, and lessons led by Nhlanhla and innocent- childlike games and warm-ups led by Sibahle, these residencies were ideally balanced and can be bestdescribed as learning with a heavy heart; but exploring with a youthful spirit. Each workshop dove into history, art, creativity, and even spirituality. Artists were able to explore the creative= process of Dadaism— which is the practice of artistic word cutting from clippings and newspapers to create meaningful messages and poetry, as well as create headdresses; play a
series of traditional South African games as icebreakers, and even explore art through sound and visual inspiration.
In addition to these art forms, participants also explored senseless body movement led by Thulani, by exploring weight shifting, exploring various access points within the body, and contemporary movement in pairs. Participating artists were tasked with exploring exercises where they had to hold each other up by shifting each other’s weight back and forth senselessly;carry one another across the room, and mentally placing themselves in the state of the World War and its public relations. We were asked to intake the reality of what it felt like to BE there. It was unlike any experience or workshop I have ever facilitated or partook in before.
“This experience was ultimately life-changing. I had a phenomenal time, I had a blast!” said Poet and Event Curator Jerris “QuickThePoet” Evans. “I learned a lot and I feel like I gained a whole new unique family in this world with The Head and The Load squad that banded together. I am extremely grateful for this experience.”
In efforts of bringing this to the community— on November 7th, The Arsht Center also collaborated with the Belafonte Talcocy Center and brought a FREE Community Dance and Movement Workshop. Participants in this group, explored traditional South African folklore movement, explored a spiritual exercise in the “importance of our names”; and also worked in pairs and explored movement using different pin points in our bodies.
“I love learning new things and exploring new experiences. So when I found out this was a project exploring some form of African Diaspora, I knew I had to get my organization involved” said Folayan Griffiths, Vice President of Delou Africa— a South Florida Based Traditional West African Drumming, Dancing, and Music Troupe.
The Residency continued November 8th-10th in collaboration with The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center; where participants were provided with these same opportunities — only in a more fast-paced environment and method of teaching and slightly more intimate group and quaint space.
In the spirit of unity and collaboration, the first set of residencies concluded with a goodbye dinner Hosted by Delou Africa for the traveling artists on their last evening. It was truly a family affair and an opportunity for everyone to continue to educate and spread awareness of this production. Participants were even provided with an electronic PDF workbook, for them to further explore the work and inspirational findings as well as recreate exercises for their own in-class lecture and discussion.
This weekend, The Head and The Load Set Designer and Architectural Visionary Sabine Theunissen will be Hosting her Residency at The Arsht center for South Florida visual artists, scenic, and set designers to be exposed to using the cardboard model as a thinking tool, and explorin shadow play for creating sets and exhibitions for theater, opera, dance and visual art.
Additionally, a lecture demonstration for South Florida music professionals with interest in voice and composition led by The Head and The Load Composer, Philip Miller who will be assisted by vocal collaborators, Ann Masina and Tsegofatso Moeng. The lecture will explore the process of collaboration and improvisation, both with the singers and with William Kentridge’s vision. It will also focus on the inter-connectedness, exchange of ideas which takes place between composer and visual artist and how this informs the making of the final work. Participants of these workshops and residencies, will also be invited to attend the open dress rehearsal of The Head and the Load on November 30th at 6PM for free at the Adrienne Arsht Center as part of the community engagement experience. Our hope with this project is that this sparks collaboration amongst Miami artists from different mediums and art forms to work and explore what untold Miami stories can be unearthed and shared with our communities.