Gaby Saranouffi: #MOI project 2020 – A socially conscious artistic voice in a landscape of violence
Gaby Saranouffi’s infectious smile and generous laugh punctuate all her discussions and conversations; her eyes sparkle with life and energy. This Madagascan-born dancer/choreographer, who divides her time between her home country and South Africa, is an important driving force in changing the narrative surrounding the difficult subject of abuse against women and children.
Saranouffi’s contribution to dance on the continent is significant – through the creation of ITROTRA ART X CONNECTION in 2015, an arts platform founded with her partner Moeketsi Koena from SA, she has collaborated with many female artists in the SADC umbrella, and both dancer/choreographers have utilised their work to create public awareness, discourse and action on societal ills.
Using dance as her medium, Saranouffi’s mission is to develop young people’s self-awareness and self-responsibility and to tackle the endemic violence in our society through creative artistic expression. Her work has always focused strongly on women’s issues and this latest project #MOI, is a collaboration with the Mpumalanga-based Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC) and forms part of the Goethe-Institut Project Space.
#MOI was conceptualised as a series of workshops with young participants who form part of FATC’s trainee initiative, culminating in performances, but COVID-19 dictated that the project was restructured into a digital format but retaining the essence of Saranouffi’s goal – to teach and impart her philosophy and pedagogy around her artistic work, her dance technique and to mentor the participants through a process of creation in isolation, highlighting the theme of domestic violence.
Using her important solo work, MOI (2012), which later evolved into a quartet #MOI (2019) as a starting point, Saranouffi worked with seven young people during July 2020 in an intensive online laboratory, finding ways of interacting, sharing and self-discovery. The participants included Adrian Tony and Phuti Chokwe (Gauteng); Siphiwe Xhaka, Palesa Mbote and Keneilwe Jaase (Free State); and Melusi Nkosi and Sandisiwe Masina (Mpumalanga).
Koena articulated the difficulties: “It was so hard to not be physically with the participants; we couldn’t touch each other or breathe together, couldn’t work off each other’s energies, as well as dealing with issues of connectivity, loadshedding, and children trying to learn online at home, but we had to learn patience and perseverance.”
A vital component of the project was an inspiring round table discussion on gender-based violence (GBV) hosted online on 1 August, marking the start of Women’s Month: An all-female panel comprising Saranouffi, Lisa Wilson (a senior academic in dance at the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, UCT) and Lebohang Moemisi (graduate of Moving Into Dance and now GBV activist and founder of the Sister’s Keeper Movement) as well as the four young women in the FATC training programme.
Wilson’s astute interrogation of the marginalisation of women and her own use of dance as a powerful tool to open up spaces for dialogue, as well as Moemisi’s frank telling of her own brutal story and her refusal to stay silent, opening the way for honest sharing by the four trainees who spoke of healing, being uplifted by the #MOI process and bringing the journey into their homes where their families became witnesses and shared in the experience.
A new generation of arts activists and teachers has been nurtured through this project, paving the way for further social transformation. In the words of Xhaka: “We need to hear from the men. There is so much pressure on them, many expectations. I am trying to teach my son to be a good man.” There is great power in these young people.
Saranouffi refused to let lockdown destroy the project. She activated all her resources and learnings, working late into each night, marketing the project on social media and tuning into a new journey of filming, editing and live streaming. The outcome was a series of solos rolled out from 6 – 8 August on Facebook, and her own original version of MOI on 9 August.
To ask a young artist to create a solo is daunting enough, but to do it during lockdown, with connectivity only happening online, is a massive ask. But Saranouffi has guided and mentored the whole way, providing them with the original soundtrack of her solo as the starting point. The composition is an original one by a Malagasy friend combined with music from ancient Malagasy compilations. The dancers were asked to write a poem reflecting on the subject matter from their own personal experience. The poems were then recorded and mixed in with the original music.
The loneliness of the artists in isolation comes through the works strongly, but we glimpse their home lives via a view into their lounges or passages and the sudden appearance of a little boy in one video or the voices of the rest of the household penetrating the soundscape. Some of the texts refer to brokenness, some ask painful questions – “Do you have the freedom to walk down the streets of your nation?” and “The enemies are in our households”.
It has taken great courage for them to tackle this project and stay the course. The flat screen is alienating and lacks ambience and there are none of the usual production elements, but fledgling choreographers have tested their wings with access to mentorship of the highest quality.
The ultimate value of a project such as this are the connections made across the country; the legacy and archival value of documenting this process; new bodies, different contexts, working with prescribed material and the individual responses and personal movement vocabulary that is emerging. Empowerment is at the root: halala ITROTRA and Saranouffi!
* The videos and panel discussion can be viewed on Gaby Saranouffi’s Facebook page.
Project partner – Goethe-Institut South Africa as part of the Goethe-Institut Project Space (GPS).
In collaboration with Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC) and ITROTRA Art X Connection.