» I hate ballet « 

Interview with Robyn Orlin, Choreographer, by Sabine Cessou

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What is the state of dance in South Africa ?
There are no structured organisations in any field. It’s not a priority for the government. Back in the days of the anti-apartheid struggle, if you worked with exiled freedom fighters, culture was almost considered a kind of weapon. It doesn’t hold any importance any more, or else there’s the same kind of nepotism as before. It’s frightening! Artists need to be free to express themselves … These days, there’s township art on one side and professional art on the other. They are both in need of money but in different ways. We are in a situation where dog eats dog and man eats man when it would be very easy to work out a strategy.
Is apartheid still very much present?
It’ll be present for another twenty to thirty years. That’s history. You can’t simply pretend it doesn’t exist. For example, I would like to put on more shows in Soweto. It’s difficult for people who live in Soweto to go to the theatre in town. On the other hand, I’m sure that most people would rather go to the Casino! All the same, I managed to get the public to come to my last three shows. Daddy, I’ve seen that piece six times and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other played to a full house at Market Theatre for two weeks solid.
Nowadays, you’re better known abroad than in your own country. Does that cause a lot of jealousy?
It’s not just jealousy. Even amongst actors who work with me, I can tell that I’m always seen as the white « Missus » who comes in with her set of demands. Black people are antagonistic, and so are white people. My work isn’t peaceful. I portray a lot of horrible things with humour. It can be quite shocking, especially for « politically correct » people.
Do you come up against a general atmosphere of denial – denial of guilt, denial of responsibility, denial of Aids?
It’s about History, we have to take possession of the past and accept the responsibility that goes with it. All over the country, people are exposed to terrible situations. Do we have the means to overcome them? On the radio, you hear about houses with a 360-degree view over the Cape peninsular and in the same breath you’re told about the problem of starving children in that particular region! It happens daily and it drives people crazy. There’s so much, and so little …
Do you play on provocation?
No not at all. Humour is the only way … If it were possible to confront reality with a sense of reflection that was not overwhelmed with guilt … Even the play I did about Aids made a lot of people angry. I play with sex-related stereotypes.
You’ve always worked with black people. Other than the fact that it was illegal, how was this perceived in the 1980s?
I got a lot of strange phone calls, but I never took them seriously. I really shook up the ballet world, which was very white and very boring. I had a good laugh … Ballet is the very essence of colonialism and imperialism. I hate it! Despite apartheid, I managed to work in mixed groups, with very different people who had very different experiences.
Would you say that you are a researcher more than anything else?
I hate dance. I am more a facilitator than a researcher. Ordinarily, I don’t work with dancers but rather with actors. I recently worked on a show called Rock My Tutu with a group of ballet dancers in Nancy, France. I was curious to see how Europeans would interpret my work. I forced them into zones where they could no longer just be good dancers. I deconstructed everything. It was a hard pill for them to swallow. I had another show that was performed in Copenhagen, which was originally entitled The future might be bright but it’s not necessarily orange then changed to Orange Gogo, that was totally unrelated to South Africa. That choreography made me realise just how much my country has shaped me. My experiences here have forged the way I see the world.
What was the end of apartheid like for you?
It was the most important moment of my life. To my mind, nothing else would have been possible. Many people say that it was cleaner and safer here before. I’m not interested in that aspect. Even though the future is unclear for White people like myself, the undoing of apartheid was the only possible solution. For a very long time I lived with the anxiety of having to confront the system every day. I couldn’t have stood it for much longer.
Have you found it more or less easy to be creative after apartheid?
It was a lot easier to work during apartheid because we knew what we were up against. Since then, it’s become a lot less clear. As a white person I have to admit that I was advantaged. I’m having to redefine myself – without forgetting what my condition was. It may be harder but it’s important. That’s possibly the reason why I’m finally leaving to go and live with my husband in Berlin – which isn’t easy for me as a Jew either …

///Article N° : 5528


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