Branfman on the Politics of Dancing
Political dance. Sounds like another one for the oxymoron file? Well don’t tell that to L.A. native and former Bella Lewitzky student Suchi Branfman.
“Dance can inspire thought and dialogue as much as any other art form,” she says.
Incorporating movement that ranges from “abstract to martial arts to improv” and anything else she pleases (including interludes of spoken theater), Branfman’s work is both topical and motivational.
She is performing “Through the Motions,” her work-in-progress solo about “the experience of living with AIDS” as part of the “Car Pool” program at Highways through Sunday. Also on the bill are Linda Carmela Sibio, Dan Kwong, Linda Hammett and Keith Antar Mason.
Branfman has been creating political dance during her five years with the women’s dance theater collective, Wallflower Order, and as a co-founding member of her current troupe, the New York-based Crowsfeet Dance Collective.
“I come from a progressive family background and I wanted to integrate my dancing with my socially responsible and conscious work,” she says. “We (in Crowsfeet) want to address social issues, not only in content but also in the forms we use and the contexts in which we present.”
A group that has toured extensively in the United States, Europe and Latin America, Crowsfeet agrees with the feminist slogan “The Personal Is Political.”
But aside from interpolations of theater--such as the monologue in “Through the Motions” delivered by a “funny character from the South who has a relative with AIDS"--Branfman says this particular solo’s politics isn’t of the banner-waving kind.
“I don’t necessarily see this solo as an activist piece. It has more to do with personal healing for myself.”
Still, the educational and inspirational intentions behind Branfman’s solo work are consonant with Crowsfeet’s socially aware agenda.
“Our company is multiracial and that’s one of the tenets it’s founded on,” Branfman says. “We’ve been involved with addressing that (multiculturalism) for years, (so) that we reach all different populations.”
Branfman’s company has also created dance-theater works based on conditions in Nicaragua and on the United States’ relations with Central America, focusing on such topics as “what it means to live in the midst of an armed conflict.”
She is particularly struck by the differences in what it’s like to be an artist in the United States as opposed to what it’s like to be an artist in Latin America.
“The way people choose to make art, dance, theater (in Latin America) is more immediately responsive to the historic moment,” she says. “Artists are seen as workers, just like many other workers, whereas here that’s not the case.”
"(Art) also has to be able to reach a broad audience (outside the United States). There’s not a large elite population in Nicaragua, not a large wealthy community, and certainly not a large trained arts audience. They have to make work that people will understand.”
Even the creative process is more participatory, said Branfman. “People talk back to the artists and there’s an ongoing dialogue with audience members very much a part of the process of what’s being created.”
Branfman would like to see more of that kind of exchange here, as well as discussions of the issues themselves. “My hope is that the more we talk about something like AIDS, the more people will think about it and insist upon there being attention and care given to the problem.”
And Branfman’s convinced the way to make that happen is to reach each person on an individual level. “Personal pieces are the ones that affect people the most profoundly, politically too,” she says.