Dancing On Political Lines: edition No.1

Political Bodies (double bill) | Canada Water Theatre | 13th October 2017

Ever since Obama became the 44th President of the US and the first person of colour to be their Chief Commanding Officer, politics and race became the new pop culture. Forget the Kardashians, “Keeping Up with the Politicians”, mate!

For people of colour, it was an unlikely reality to believe but welcomed. So, we watched on intensely with all our body’s extremities crossed and looped, praying for Obama’s survival.

To keep up, those who were of the “I don’t much care for politics.” bracket of society had to adapt their ears to the political vernacular of the times and become more acquainted with words that often ended with “ism” and often implied a whole other pre-set of meanings. News reporters familiarized us with words like, for example;

“Fake news”, “Populism”, “Post-racism”, “Neo-liberalism”, “Sensationalism”, “Radicalism”, “Neo-fascism”… “You-better-get-to-knowism!”.

What all these isms really meant, who really knew? What was certain – as time passed – was that, though on one hand the president remained alive, on the other hand we could clearly see his accomplishments didn’t resolve all the inequalities various fractions of his nation were still facing or that had gotten worse in some cases.

These “fixable” inequalities expected were not just the undoing of all systemic racism on behalf of black folk (a real expectation from some hopeful few), but also addressing the economic gaps between classes.

The discontent of the nation and other global threat factors would eventually lead to people seeking alternative politics and land us in what the media would call a  “white-lash”; White nationalist ideologies began generating empathy from those of the nation who felt forgotten.  A high percentage of these were “White Working Class”. Together they summarized some of the most obvious candidate to blame for economic, social conditions and all the other things they felt weren’t making them feel great about their country or about themselves. This provided a sharp contrast where those who remained optimistic we confronted overtly by those who were pessimistic about the way the world was turning.

Clearly, in the wider context of the globe, all these “isms” which represented a minefield of ideologies wasn’t working. They were all ideas of what one group or another thought might be ideal (for them).

By the Brexit referendum results and the transition of the 2016 presidential campaign, as we followed closely, those who were thinking that the world was stepping forward, began to figure that, on both sides of the ocean, the political and commercial spin of multiculturalism had worn thin and the base of society had dipped to a new low.

To some, it was all just a trope of social pacification, a Trojan horse that made way for a new wave of greedy capitalists. Where would gentrification be with out it? Though some had caught on, it would of had a much harder time without trying to divert peoples attention. Actually, it provided the conditions for more cultural divisiveness.

As a born Brit, I could travel down to Shoreditch or Dalston and feel the allure of multiculturalism but, I knew it was a privilege that was conditional and limited. I knew this wasn’t afforded to everyone.

In a  2017 interview by Jon Snow, when asked about his legacy, former president Bill Clinton said;

“… Did I abolish inequality? No. And, you can’t in a market society.”

Many things we had hoped were progressing one way ended up going another.

We spent so long trying to recover from the shock of 9/11, 2001, which gave birth to G.W.Bush’s “War on Terror”, that it brought a level of fear and social anxiety we were unable to process in time for progress. We tried to suppress it but the climate was thickening in the approaching background. As we buried our heads in other pop-culture the tensions were magnified by the rhetoric of tabloid and social media. There was literally no escape. Trying to navigate between the lines of “real” and “fake news” added to our need for resolve and answers. We had to make decisions as to where we stood with what little we understood.

Then came the killing of black bodies by white police officers caught on camera. Then more terrorist attacks in the UK and US, Ferguson and so on and so on.  During this time Islamophobia and immigration had been a constant front runner of social tensions.  With all the other issues added, on a global level, society began to look like a bonfire ready to ignite.

This kept the belly of the tabloids full. Hysteria ensued as social media fed the people extreme left and right wing narratives. In the mean time, politicians were preparing to use this for the next election. They watched the wreckage and pile up, picked their playing cards and then decided their angle for the coming election.

Bill Clinton  – He won because he got what politics was about; Candidates, Conditions and Culture, not just what position you’re taking on the issue.

Clinton was speaking about G.W.Bush but the formula seems recognisable, right? And, the player who speaks the minds of the silent majority wins the ultimate prize – power over the whole.

Like a military instruction taken from the book “The Art of War”, feed them hope and the fear of chaos, and they shall hand you their bounty. Such is the never ending loop of a social system that turns strategy into power for those who know how. Eternal damned servitude awaits those who do not know how the system so insidiously works.

Even though few are aware, 99% of us are not only tied to this complex system of divisive propaganda and power manipulation but, subconsciously we are active as a consenting part of it like an involuntary muscle wrapped around an internal organ.

We have been blinded to its workings. Even when the components are in  front of our eyes, even in our own hands, we often don’t know how to use them, how they work. We are as pawns, gullible to misdirection, given a false sense of power and periodically fed new ideologies of progress when there is only but one supreme ideology protected by the vanguards of wealth – political and economic power. And, why would they give that up when they need you to be where you are in order for their wealth to have value.

Psychologically, the view is that humanity innately allows itself to be dis-empowered in willing exchange that someone should instruct them of what they should think and do. In this we find comfort, a displacement of the responsibilities (fear) of freedom in exchange for civil liberties, entitlements and security. Some may relate this to what is called existentialism. And, to this allegiance of programming, we conform.

Mark Twain – It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many people can resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self-approval.

“I am good, right?” like a child to their significant parent, seeking approval and favour. We play this task out in the majority of our achievements in life. We seek approval from our family, partners, friends and society. This is how we find our agreeable identity. More than we seek our own definition, we listen externally for the social cues and act in accordance of what we ought to be in relation to our identified group.

Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return To Self – … creators are able to define identity and achieve self-realization by self reference, that is, by interacting with their work rather than by interacting with other people.

Consider a crazy but, I think, fair alternative; there are many ways that the creator mindset can be used to better personal conditions and the overall health of society especially when used to produce the arts and engage others with it.

There are many artists skilled enough to deliver (with the right support) a wide variety of engagements that nurture divided social lines and evoke the questions we could alternatively be asking ourselves in the context of the wider society. Art empowers people and the people are genuinely dis-empowered.

We are so subdued in politics and issues of national economics in almost every aspect of our normal lives, we over look the importance of the arts in these areas and how these areas potentially limit and disempower the arts.

Being an artist myself and coming up around a large and diverse community of other artists, I’ve witnessed so much constructive creative and cultural potential result to nothing because the resources and support were not available to those who were unable, by their reach, to secure the sytems connections. But this is nothing new, a collection of micro incidences in the macro of progressive potential in society cut by the lack of resource, knowledge and power, made redundant before employment by political and economic agendas on a systemic scale.

Only by being considered a “national treasure” by the keepers of our national interest, do we see those who eventually become recognised muster the possible chance of making a difference. The question is, whilst we waiting, cuing and hoping, is this enough, when we know there is so much more to be had from the untapped wealth with the culture and community of artists? The question must also be then, whose responsibility is it if change is needed?

As artists we pay little attention to the context of our contemporary history within this arena.

As FBO work towards it’s Political Bodies double bill dance theatre presentation on the 13th October at Canada Water Theatre, I invite you to join me in these next few editions to look at how politics and national economics has shaped the conditions of our artistic cultural development through history up until present day.

For this purpose, I will consider mostly, but not exclusively, the journey of hip hop and street dance, from their socio-political beginnings, the jagged relationship with the commercial industries, economic rises and falls and the steps towards the status of becoming a national treasure. I ask the art makers, those that are the narrators of the human story, should we become more politically minded as artists and creators in order not to become the manipulated subjects of capitalism? Or, are we already there?

Let me know what you think / comment.

13th October 2017

Sean Graham’s Foreign Bodies Orchestra presents –

Political Bodies (double bill)

From the Windrush to Brexit, this double bill explores the traumatisation of identity, nationalism and culture caused by fear based propaganda.

Venue: Canada Water Theatre.

Time: 7:30pm

Ticket: £12 / £9 concs. Age 16+


The Making Of… An Orchestra.

Why did you decide to start Sean Graham’s Foreign Bodies Orchestra and how did you choose the name?

I’ve gone by other names in the past but the Foreign Bodies Orchestra was an organic manifestation. It arrived at the point when I was ready and could evaluate its weight and meaning. The company of performers I work with now tell the story. I had the opportunity to develop work at the Sadler’s Wells/Breakin’ Convention – BackToTheLab project. I chose to be open and just bring me minus my ambitions or ego. During the project I learnt a lot under Jonathan Burrows and Jonzi D. Their experience made it safer for me to let go of mine and just be present and willing to seek new insights into my creation. I chose several performers (Frank Wilson, Theo Alade, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, MoSean Edwards. Later; Si Rawlinson, Aneta Zwierzynska and Yoshi SBX) that I felt I have been inspired by through collaborating with them or observing their work.

My professional experiences, thus far, enabled me not to have to consider age or dance style. I wanted to work with all the divisions I could.

Multiculturalism as a political subject and vice spin may contribute to the "multicultural problem" as do most things become once in the political hemisphere. - Sean Graham
Multiculturalism as a political subject and vice of spin may actually contribute to the “multicultural problem” as do most things become – a problem – once in the political hemisphere. – Sean Graham

I knew these were the right people and that we could extend each other. This came with bonuses and drawbacks. The greatest bonus was that in the studio there was absolutely no competition because everybody brought their own special thing. The otherness between them was a greater adversary than their similarities. The only thing remained apparent was that we were all are artists, people, humans, bodies wanting to create art that was worthy of speaking to an audience.

At the forefront of this backdrop was the actual work being created. I wrote a script about multiculturalism and its current state. The aim was to publically share a perspective that wasn’t necessarily politically correct but that put political correctness into the equation of debate. We looked at how the idea and learned fear of “otherness” has played out over recent millennia. In this case the other is the foreigner.

Image from RACE TRACKS filmography by Danilo Moroni
Image from RACE TRACKS filmography by Danilo Moroni

Life and art reflected each other. Looking in retrospective, I learned that I long have created art expressing the experience of being categorised as “other” through the different social and political eras of my life and others. Ironically, there I was working in the studio with the advantage of otherness. Whereas the global society have been nurtured to believe otherness equates to chaos my role was to make sense and harmony, hence, the orchestra aspect came to life. Each component artist articulate in their own right but, once collectively conducted they would create a symphony. Some unique expanse of themselves.

What do you hope to achieve with Foreign Bodies Orchestra?

I hope the meaning of the name will bear testimony through its works and achievements; by contributing to how individuals and communities look at themselves in relationship to otherness. I want to hold a mirror to society so that it looks at itself for what it truly is, like an astronaut out in space looking at the delicate pale blue dot in the middle of the universe called earth. This is all we have. Don’t waste time competing against each other. Don’t fake it either, with humility we can have more than we imagined.

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The Beginnings of a Future. Interview by Charelle Griffith

An interview with Sean Graham asks what his journey into dance was like and who inspired him.

You have had a fantastic career as a dancer why did you decide to choreograph?

My career as a dancer came with assumptions. Some I didn’t like and some I had to learn how to become.

It was assumed that I’d feel at home being a commercial

Photography by Danilo Moroni
Photography by Danilo Moroni

entertainer so, I assumed the position. I had to battle with the realisation of being treated as cattle in auditions. And, even when I got the jobs I battled with the objectification that came with it. The sweet to sour feeling repeated, being groomed for a day or two then the reality of basic bills to pay as the hype faded away was a lot to begin with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the courage or boldness to keep doing it. It wasn’t all that I expected to feel on my dance journey. I just knew that there was more to my relationship with dance. More I wanted to express. More than what I looked like whilst I was “doing the dance”. I wanted to be the dance and the dance to be me – my life and its voice.

Photography by Danilo Moroni

So I started making my creations. Notice I didn’t say dance choreography. I was trained in performing arts, acting and theatre at Lewisham. Before that, my biggest inspiration, whilst I was on the quest to finding a voice that would fit my identity, as I saw it, in the mist of studying at the Brits school was Jonzi D’s Aeroplane Man. I saw it about three times. Once when it started out at mid-scale theatres (Croydon Clock Tower), around ’98. Then, when it blew up (Queen Elizabeth Halls). I remember it being the first time that I truly connected and felt present in the conversation. It was the first time I felt I was being spoken with and for on stage. The art forms were of secondary importance to me. It was all one fluency, from word to movement, from movement to imagery. No one taught this in school. I had to meet the maker or create my own story. I eventually did both.

Aeroplane Man Poster
Aeroplane Man by Jonzi D

I’ve had many opportunities since. Many back to the drawing board moments. The task for me was, how could I use this inspiration and my personal experience to find my own voice and not be lost in replicating what has already been said. Alternatively not be afraid to take the theatrical dialog further. I’ve bugged Jonzi and others like him (Will Power, Benji Reid, Robert Hylton, Irven Lewis) over the years. And, it was worth it. Through irritation and observation they were my teachers where school had failed to teach.

Ultimately, I think I’ve used my career in choreography as a testing board. I’ve learnt many lessons in the classroom on the way. One of my greatest lessons is that the journey with dance is a relationship; you keep growing together. It pushes you and you push it. You keep it alive if not you both cease to exist in your true form.

Who are your choreographic inspirations?

FBO – Race Tracks. Dress rehearsal @ The Place.

No doubt, the strength, beauty and grace of the Alvin Ailey dancers are without doubt or ounce of clichéd shame “Deh Bizzniss!!”. I admire Akram Khan because of his business savvy. Though I know all the big names of contemporary and modern dance and, respectfully hand them their dues, I am really inspired by the hunger and drive of the younger dancers. The ones that the world doesn’t know about yet. The is nothing more rewarding than meeting a Botis Seva, Kwame Lacious, Sia Gbamoi, Daryl Baker or Natalie James and saying “You are the future”. I say this on the merit of their passion and visible dedication to dance. That’s all they need the rest is innate to such characters. Dance acts on these guys – like the Grace that God gives. They deliver, the world just has to catch up.

visit: www.fbo-dancetheatre.com