Twists: Dance and Decoloniality was conceived as a multi-modal project that would systematically address questions regarding the impact of colonialism on dance and its consequences and decoloniality. It was explicitly designed to provide space for imagining more productive futures for dance especially within contemporary contexts. Under the institutional leadership of Tanzfabrik Berlin and in collaboration with leading researchers and theorists in the field, the artists Choy Ka Fai, Jay Pather, Lia Rodrigues, and Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor would consider existing and persistent instances of hermetically sealed hegemonies, racism, and exclusions in the production of dance. Deeply aware of the dangers of decoloniality as another fad or trend, this research-intensive approach aimed to be rigorous and critical.
Officially launched as an international project in November 2019, the project’s timeline then ran straight into the consequences arising out of COVID-19, the several lockdowns that followed, and the interruptions with international travel and gatherings. The project took to intense online sessions to continue planning the multiple outputs, such as the Symposium, as well as implementing the first output of the project, a public workshop program, with the hope that face-to-face interactions would be possible in some not-too-distant future.
Then on May 25, 2020, George Perry Floyd Jr., an African American man, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States. As one of a string of incidents targeting Black people, the murder gave rise to several protests launched by the Black Lives Matter movement, which quickly spread to Europe, among other places in the world. Art organizations were swept into this upsurge in Europe and began issuing statements in solidarity. The organization directly involved with hosting Twists not only behaved very hesitantly, but also questioned the request itself. As an organization producing a forum on decoloniality, this question of solidarity at a moment of crisis arising out of the excesses and brutality of coloniality was a body blow to the core group of artists involved.
Subsequently, Jessica Taylor resigned from the project, and, in the absence of quick remedial action, the existing members questioned the veracity of the project going forward. After many attempts at trying to hold this process together, Tanzfabrik, the original hosts, asked to be relieved of this responsibility, citing a need to sort out infrastructural issues. To salvage the amount of work that had already gone into the devising of Twists, the project went through several re-imaginings—a stand-alone symposium, a publication, and a series of public talks were all considered by the core group—until it floundered and dissolved completely. The funding that had been acquired for the project was returned to the funders by the host.
For this publication, then, the idea of an article arose, one that introduces the breadth and scope of this fertile and potentially valuable project but in the main focuses on reflections by the original core group of individuals who curated the project as well as Sigrid Gareis, the initiator of Twists.
What does this have to do with curation of dance? This may seem obvious, and yet the endemic problems with the original project ask that this be spelled out. While not dealing explicitly with curation, it homes in on a crucial part of curatorial consideration—the hidden institutional blind spots and brutalities that both determine and hinder curatorial choices and pretensions of care. What is more, it leans into the notion of curation as more than a rudderless, “pure” act of artistic enquiry and excellence—as one deeply embedded in the political and ideological milieu of time and place.
So, the article, after a brief look at the scope of the project, comprises reflections obtained through interviews and organized under the sub-headings Dreaming, Missteps, and Aftermath.
The Dreaming was to tease out the initial premise of Twists—to go beyond the lip service doled out to issues of “diversity” and “inclusivity” and systematically approach decoloniality and dance as a series of actions. Just as it may be reductive to use the same frame that housed a realist landscape painting for a contemporary work that seeks to question representation, so too the project sought to reveal how institutional critique has to be central in our thinking about curation of dance in our contemporary worlds. This is the dreaming.
In the section on Missteps, we see how the clashes amounted to a bruising experience, largely reflected in the interview format which captures the immediacy of the responses. The Aftermath repeatedly revisits two binaries—the re-affirmation that decolonial gestures involving integrated voices—race, institution, a combination of artist voices with academia—are almost always disappointing and that this is necessary work.
Twists was a wonderful but failed experiment; the thesis lies in this, that the reflections by the core group, through good intentions and failure, may provide material for better curatorial choices. In an issue on the curation of dance, the article then asks for vigilance, patience, and labor—especially when curation meets decoloniality.
Twists brought together current knowledges from a wide variety of disciplines and aimed to be accessible, direct, and interactive as well as sustainable—one of the project’s final outcomes was the development of manuals. These were meant to serve as a source for the various impulses and findings to be transferred to wider publics engendering discussions towards an ethically responsible approach to international entanglements in the field of dance. The following six Outputs were planned:
Following an internal sensitivity process, a series of public workshops scheduled for April 14–18, 2020 with the experts Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Tahir Della, Yvette Mutumba, Jay Pather, and Rolando Vázquez Melken.
2. Field Research at Tanzfabrik Berlin and Neighboring Institutions at Uferstudios in Berlin
Over the course of a three-week period of field research in the fall of 2020 and an additional workshop, the artists would conduct research into (post)colonial and Eurocentrically influenced structural conditions at Tanzfabrik Berlin and (eventually) other cultural institutions situated at Uferstudios in Berlin.
3. Research on the Canon in Dance with the Suddenly Collective
Suddenly consists of thirteen dancers and choreographers who studied together at Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz in Berlin. They would explore the “canon” through the following questions:
What does colonization mean in terms of body, movement, choreography, and artistic work? What is being colonized, by what/whom, and how can we move beyond? What does it mean to transmit a piece from one context to another? How can we prepare ourselves to be open for such a transmission? What can the collaboration with an especially invited guest artist teach us about our own position in the context of (de-)colonization? How do our curiosities meet the curiosities of the invited artist?
Their findings would then be presented for discussion at the Symposium.
4. Public Symposium
On November 7 and 8, 2020, artists and researchers in the field would be invited to a public symposium at Uferstudios in Berlin to explore methodical/theoretical as well as practical art-centered considerations for the decolonization of dance institutions.
Guiding Principles for the symposium:
• the marginalized voice should be the central one of the whole symposium;
• hierarchies and hegemonic disbalances in the structure of discussions must be avoided or even counterbalanced, and gender, age, race diversity must be secured;
• concrete impact on dance structures and concrete methods of changing institutions, not only discussing the decolonization of dance;
• reflect a practice of decolonization and not reproduce coloniality;
• symposium should not only host talks, but also practical work and include the implementation of more radical formats and transitions between different formats;
• use of a glossary to agree on a decolonized vocabulary.
The actual symposium plan was refined and timetabled. These were the planned seminal topics:
• The (Hard) Work of Decolonizing Art Institutions
• Global Solidarity/Creative Justice
• Persistence of Exotism (Post-Colonial Spirit)
• Decolonizing Knowledge
• Double Consciousness and Blackness/Invisibilizing Blackness
• Existing Differences in Privileges/Shifting Hierarchies of Power—Infrastructure and Gatekeeping
• Critical Whiteness
A publication about the project and all its modalities was intended to be published by the end of 2021.
6. The Concrete Decolonization of Tanzfabrik Berlin
Implementation of the internal decolonization process by the team of Tanzfabrik Berlin itself on the basis of the artistic research process Twists and supported by the NGO Diversity Arts Culture. There was also an offer by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung to get subsidies for a long-term decolonization process at Tanzfabrik Berlin.
The exposition provided above itemizes a dense process. In this section, the core group engage in a series of reflections under the broad titles Dreaming, Missteps, and Aftermath.
Jay: South African academic Mandla Mbothwe describes the state of Ephupheni [Xhosa for “in a dream”] as:
A place of limitless possibilities, a place of time mutation, a place of future dreaming, a place of past and future in present, of fragmentations and beautiful chaos…A place of making and tearing things apart only to remake them. A place of healing and teaching.
What were your dreams as a core group member? What did you imagine would happen?
Jessica: I had many grand dreams with this project. And this is one of the tragedies with not being able to realize creative dreams due to institutionalized intervention, as I'll call it for now. As Langston Hughes writes in his poem "Harlem":
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet.
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load
Or does it explode?
One of my dreams was to process the limitations of artistic institutions in community and discover working methodologies on navigating these limitations. Having come from community work where I'd been in congress with diverse pockets of several artistic sectors, I was energized by the act of processing what we would engage in regularly. By processing, I mean being in direct dialogue with members of these communities, having an exchange and feedback model that produced not only practical work but also an ever-evolving development of ideas and shared knowledges and histories that were being re-contextualized in real time.
I had big professional dreams as well. I just finished my Master's degree and being the youngest in the group, I felt like it was an incredible opportunity to do the work that I had been dreaming of with an admirable group of people. As a Black woman, it is important to name the fact that I was interested in professional gain because Black women in the arts so seldom get to express that desire and right: to be opportunistic. We are supposed to be humble, just happy to be in the room. So, in that respect, the institution functioned exactly as it was designed: bringing in a Black woman for diversity and then not being able to support them.
Sigrid: My dream was explicitly small but precise: when Twists started at the beginning of 2019, the political need to decolonize German art institutions was not characterized as urgent—in dance, such processes had not started properly. But there was already a certain danger that decolonization in the German context would develop into a fashionable “meta-topic.” As an anthropologist, my wish was to be as concrete as possible and not stuck in just discourse and conversations. Together with Tanzfabrik Berlin and a team of experienced artists form different continents—as well as with the support of scientists and experts—I wanted to develop as precise methods and approaches as possible for the necessary future decolonization of dance institutions in Europe. The aim of the project was not to decolonize Tanzfabrik Berlin itself, but to investigate concrete needs and possibilities for a future decolonization of this venue and establish this concrete example as a base for methods and means which other institutions in Europe could develop in a mutual learning process. In general, I expected a serious, but more humble research project. In my professional life, I have always believed that if good, engaged, and interesting people work together and if there are sincere intentions, it will work… But in this case, it didn't work.
Lia: The diversity of artists’ voices, voices from different places of the world, are there saying for many years what is necessary. But I don't think they are going to be heard. So, how can I cope with this no hope world. What dreams can I have? Then I try very much to inspire myself with people that can open a small door so I can breathe through this door. And with, for example, the indigenous voices from Brazil—as part of a group doing activism with indigenous people—hearing what they think about the world makes me breathe a little bit. Otherwise, I cannot be. I can only go on with my work through bringing very close what I say and think to what I practice. I think this is very important and very hard work because sometimes in the doing, you simply repeat models of hierarchy. I grew up in a dictatorship—what can we hope and dream in in a world like this? I try to go to these voices and practice radical listening. I also like the idea of tropical agriculture—plant everything together and then from a desert you create a forest. My dream is to apply this idea of tropical agriculture to the way I make art, that everything is connected underground. And we could apply the “twists” in many fields because I think it's very necessary. You know, Twists was meant to be something alive, with topics that you apply to institutions everywhere.
Recently in our dance school, a ballet teacher used a phrase that was racist and hurtful. And she said, my God, I said something wrong, but I am not a racist. So, you cannot imagine the crisis—we are not someone that would expel her from the school; she has to be educated if she wants. So, she said, okay, I'm ready to understand what I did. With Twists, I don't know what happened that we were not able to make this possible, I don't know till now. Why? Because I'm doing this in my work in Brazil, but I saw that it was not possible in Germany.
Ka Fai: I think the first thing that came across my mind at that first meeting in Potsdam in September 2019 was that I didn’t know what I'm getting into. I know my limitation in terms of my articulation or writing in that sense, so I was a bit scared; but I wanted to contribute, I wanted to try to get into the conversation, into this very chaotic and complex subject matter. It was also that this tragic process starts, and I was somewhere else. But then once we come together and settled on these various ideas on the symposium, I was quite excited and eager.
I did wonder why do I, from the Global East, or you [Jay], coming from the Global South, have to connect in Europe? Not artists from Asia talking directly to African artists. So, I was really looking forward to—and for lack of a better word—a really diverse gathering of scholars, choreographers, makers of meaning in that sense. I was always quite looking forward to that and to be as open as possible, not knowing what would happen.
Jay: What stands out for you in general/abstract terms or in specific events, as spaces of blockages and difficulty, when we tripped and struggled to move forward?
Jessica: Something I notice a lot of people in institutions struggle with is critique and/or a feedback model. At the moment of crisis, when we tried to bring in an intervention from the outside, it was very difficult, and it was clear that these people aren't accustomed to shifting based on the needs of every individual in the room. And that is ultimately the downfall of most rooms "in power." It's that moment, to truly be inclusive or shut down and therefore shut people out. Listening is key.
Sigrid: In general, I was surprised and dismayed that with all the problems that arose, it was not possible to clearly identify and analyze whether they were due to unclear engagements in the process, political inexperience, professional shortcomings, lack of decolonial knowledge, or personal emotional factors. This caused—one could almost say—an exponential growth of the problems we encountered.
In my opinion, the concrete starting point of our conflicts—an actual case of structural racism—could have been solved in principle by mediation and the support of the very helpful experts that had already been involved. However, it developed into a confusing and unresolvable, extremely personal struggle among the white people involved in the project—namely between Tanzfabrik Berlin and me as external initiator of the project. This whole process was overshadowed by organizational debates, insufficient internal and external communication, a permanent back and forth in argumentation, and increasing personal insecurity among individual project participants. I was aware that problems would arise—many authoritative voices on the subject justifiably stress this fact—but I was not aware that such unresolvable problems could ever appear.
The crucial thing was that it wasn`t possible to establish a serious process to learn and go ahead with the problems, mistakes, or missteps that we made. We were stuck in permanent discussions about resolving the problems, but especially because of this back and forth in argumentation and, at the end, absence of a sufficient "will” of the organization—so my impression—we did not come to resolutions nor to compromises.
The misstep I felt deeply responsible for, and the reason for my impatience with my Western colleagues, was putting too much pressure in details and trusting too much and superficially the general willingness of Tanzfabrik to start this decolonization process. I should have checked and fostered much more the involvement of the complete team of Tanzfabrik—and I should have been more indulgent.
On reflection, I think that such a process probably can't be initiated by an external curator—even though we had developed the structure and concept together in long, common, and fruitful discussions from the outset.
Lia: I blame also myself, you know, in a way because I couldn't do anything. I was not able to do something. Suddenly, we are out, and they are fighting with each other. And I was watching this fight among white people. This is what I saw. I am also white but in terms of being European, not, and suddenly they were fighting, and I could not understand this fight. Why? I said, no, this is impossible. This is impossible. Everything we proposed, nothing was possible. I didn't know what game they were playing finally. I felt very sad also to not be able to blow some light onto the pieces, to put everybody together.
I had this taste in my mouth that is a failure for me. It's why it's so difficult sometimes to speak about the project because it stayed in me like a failure. I'm not used to do this. I'm not used to letting something down. You fight till the end, but then this was not my fight anymore. I could not do anything, and this was very sad for me.
In my career, there was this model of European dance that needed to be in the “market.” I was not able to do this, you know, and suddenly I understood that it is the opposite that I have to do. What I have to do is not known here. But I suffered a lot because people were criticizing what you do. But what they know, I don't know. I was not able to see this in the beginning of my career, so there was suffering when I first was in touch with European presenters and artists, and I thought I'm not able to be a choreographer on this level. Then with reading my life’s experiences, I understood that it's nothing like this. I could understand that I was trapped inside the system because I didn't personally prefer only white male choreographers, but I was reproducing this in my old dance festival. So, I had to really make a study and go out of this. But you need to make your own work with yourself.
In Brazil, we cannot simply say anything; you have to discuss, stop, see this and the other side. I'm always questioned as a white woman. Recently, in one incident, a dancer questioned me, and I have all these sentences in my head—that I'm not a racist, etc. So, I could hear these voices inside me, but I have to say to the dancer, you are right. I have to work on this. But inside me, there was a voice screaming, I'm not a racist. I wouldn't do anything against her. I love her, you know, all these things. But that is the work that we have to do, it’s urgent.
With Twists, all the going back and forth with Tanzfabrik—you said this, and I think this—is so boring. Let's put all these thoughts aside and do something concrete, I felt it was so simple to us to solve. And you have these sessions, long, intense meetings for nothing. I wanted just to say, stop, just stop. Let's do this again in another way, not all this talking and writing. I don't think this led us to anything.
Ka Fai: When these things start to happen, you couldn't help but feel the irritation with why can’t we just do things? Lia mentioned that as artists we improvise, we make, we get things done. So, we don't go through so many steps. And if there’s a problem, we're just talking, we don't go to a mediator in that sense. That was this whole culture shock for me. And all this time, actually, this two and a half years, I wasn't really reflecting. I was encountering and trying to look at or contextualize or solve a problem that was in front of us.
Then, as the time dragged out into the pandemic and the lockdown, I was also concerned about how I would survive, and it was this anxiety—when we couldn't work. Everyone was stuck somewhere else. We couldn't connect as well. There was no gathering, there was no exchange in the very real, and I learned this phrase now that I use a lot: “in real life.” We couldn't do anything in real life. So, I think one of the many missteps was probably a practical reason because we were always online. We couldn't have that sort of true conversation in that sense. Really solve some problem and move ahead. And it was actually when it started to open up, first in the summer of 2021, and then this summer  where I started to again engage and I met real, real people, and that is where I really had a lot of reflection, of thinking.
I didn't think of it in a more structural manner until someone mentioned it in the group that it is, in a way, a structural issue, a structural problem that is not one we can solve within one day or month or even a year. But when I started to reflect, I think maybe all parties, we all have taken wrong steps. And also, in a way, this coming together of people of such diverse backgrounds, diverse cultural upbringings, diverse working methodologies, we probably underestimated all of that. We thought we could just come together and move toward a common goal or a common vision—I felt that maybe we were just overambitious. I didn't have so much experience working with our hosts, but I have experience working with different German institutions in that sense. And I wasn't sure how they would react.
Jay: What are your reflections on this experience? How can we think about what happened during Twists as generative, as informing how we think about curation and decoloniality?
Jessica: The events leading up to my decision to leave the project were deeply scarring—on a personal and emotional level—being gaslit and unsupported during such a fragile moment in Black American history, the summer of 2020. Those parts of it still sag like a heavy load. The connection with some of the core members—Lia, Jay, and Ka Fai—were the bright spots. As is usually the case, the people (and in this case, People of Color) were the ones who reached out to check in on and support one another. A valuable teaching I took with me is that this work is truly radical and must be accomplished at a grassroots level. The fulfillment I've gained from going back to be in congress with pockets of community over exhausting myself by attempting to work with the institution has been wonderfully generative.
Sigrid: I would very much wish that we could shape the problems we were confronted with in more abstract forms so that others can learn from it. But after having passed this very extreme process, it is still very difficult to analyze these experiences—especially to differentiate what might be systemically relevant and what was particular in our situation. Here, I do not have real answers yet—only thought-fragments from my Western perspective.
I learned from Twists that you only can start a decolonization process if there is a clear and common agreement that it is desired by everybody in a team. All should be aware that it is a long, difficult, and painful process—not a temporary "project," but a permanent, comprehensive challenge in the future work process of an institution. It should be understood that problems in this process are normal and by no means exceptional. Recognizing these problems and using them constructively for common learning and feeding processes of change should ideally follow.
It is also important to get support from the person who moderates the process and intensively sensitize and prepare everyone involved for this task. There has to be an understanding that decolonizing processes require in-depth analysis and extensive knowledge. Therefore, it is necessary (and motivating!) that all individuals involved engage with rigor (intellectually, historically, and politically) with the contexts and necessities of such a process. And, of course, I strongly advise against tackling decolonization processes as a trend—dealing with it as an interesting topic or because there is funding for it. That does not help anybody and only pretends to be social or political engagement.
Self-criticism, I see as particularly important because consciously dealing with structural racism exposes everyone involved to extreme emotions on a personal level, which, however, are of essential importance for the process. If a decolonization process is to succeed, "it has to hurt"—as Yvette Mutumba concludes. The danger is that one becomes dishonest and manipulative towards oneself and others—especially for the white people involved who tend to use (more unconsciously) strategies of “victim blaming” in situations they have difficulties dealing with. Strong and systemic self-criticism helps to encounter it. I think Twists particularly failed on this point.
And especially because of the great artists involved in Twists, I learned that you have to be generous in this process! It is not a simple question of “right/wrong,” “good/bad,” or “correct/incorrect.” It is a common learning process where, in my opinion, the most important activity (beside accepting emotions, helplessness, or speechlessness) is to listen. Especially the Western people involved should avoid urging for perspectives and solutions before a situation is profoundly analyzed and—especially emotionally—dismantled. They should do their decolonial “homework” first before making a claim for care practices or even safe spaces for themselves, too.
Beside all the struggles during the process, I also got a big personal gift from Twists: friendship and support, which I am very grateful for! From the bottom of my heart, I must thank the artist core group—Jay, Lia, Ka Fai, and Jessica—and the process documentarians Sophie Schultze-Allen and Laura Strott as well as Sandrine Micossé-Aikins from Diversity Arts Culture, Tahir Della from Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, the artist and curator Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Silvy Chakkalakal from Humboldt University, as well as Virve Sutinen and her team from Tanz im August in Berlin for their engagement and help in difficult times!
Lia: You never finish because we are always inside the system that was created by colonialism. This inequality is a result, as climate change is also inside. So, every day we must think. After this project, I saw how strong the racism card is inside us—the capitalism, the neoliberalism, they are there. I often think there is no hope, but I saw how strong those most affected are and I saw that we must go on—there is no one way to go. Paulo Freire created with the word hope, experience. Because in Portuguese we don't have a verb for hope; it is a verb of action. So, he created a word, a verb spelled and asks, how can you put your hope in movement or in action? How do you hope freedom, hope equality?
I cannot see dance separated from everything that we are doing in the world—in dance, as in language, in books, in art, you reproduce the society, what is there in terms of power, of ideas that are there. But do I think art can save the world? Why should art do this, why should dance do this as only one of the many ways to reflect what's happening? So, we don't have to save anything but reflect changing perspectives—to see what we and others are doing.
As Twists was ending, and when I was invited to make this portrait of mine at Festival d'Automne in Paris in 2021, I realized I didn't want to be the center of this portrait. A lot of people were around me to make it possible for me to be an artist. So, I invited ten different Brazilian artists to be my portrait. They are me. Without them, I cannot exist. In this entropic agriculture we need the diversity to be able to fertilize the earth again. I think the field of art is the same.
Ka Fai: In the aftermath of Twists, I finally could talk about my life experience after my six or seven years living and working in the German dance scene—I wouldn’t dare say community—because I feel I'm not always involved. And then when I look back, even when I was with this core artist group, I realized I'm always seen or portrayed as a touring artist.
In March 2020, I gave a talk and showed one of my VR works at the tanzmesse nrw, and this question, Am I considered a German artist? came out and the immediate answer is no, I'm not a German artist if I don't speak the language yet. I do realize that it’s the intimacy with the language that brings me to understand what is working underneath a festival institution, but a journalist commented: Oh, he's a resident artist here, but he doesn't speak German. That also stuck in my mind—that in a way it’s very difficult to connect with the ecology.
As a migrant artist, I feel vulnerable because I couldn't get involved with much of the conversation. I was protected by a dance house (tanzhaus nrw/Bettina Massuch in Dusseldorf) and in Berlin, but in a bigger German ecology or the European dance scene, I have a sense of fragmentation. It's not directed at me, nothing personal, but there was still so much white privilege that you can just sense from a conversation. I also think that things are changing. I see a lot of a new and younger generations taking up positions of power. And that's heart-warming that there is a transition with a different generation, and maybe things in the future will be better.
Dance is unfortunately one of the most closed of all disciplines. I do straddle the visual arts as well, and working with visual art curators is different, probably in theatre as well. Why is dance so behind? It could be paranoia or fear because dance is so intimate and so direct. I mean that's also why I like to make performance, because it's very intimate, but in that intense connection in a black box, people tend to be more protective or pre-emptive.
Coloniality is like something we really didn't know because we didn't encounter it, but the current dance scene is sometimes like a parallel universe and as a migrant artist, you come and it's like, how do we find the meeting point? How do we collapse the gap to have some of that communication? I feel it's also both ways. We shouldn't take it for granted that because they are hosting this, they have the interest to work this out. We also have to learn how to communicate with them. And that's how it works. I was a resident artist in a town, and I was made to sign this form to say that I'm the best person for the job instead of a German or European; I think they have to go through that process. Individuals might improvise; it’s harder for institutions.
Recently, I was searching for Vietnamese diaspora artists, and I realized that they are embedded everywhere but missing a voice because we don't see them. We, as People of Color working in Germany, will keep our mouths not so loud, our voice not so expressive in that sense. So, maybe then people are already in place —it's just that that's no way to allow or to encourage them to express an individuality. And that, maybe, is decoloniality for me.
I was introduced to this book called Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum [Your Homeland Is Our Nightmare] about this German idea of a “Heimat” [homeland] to immigrants. I’ve just started to encounter and research this. These experiences touch on the more hidden and nebulous horrors of institutional exclusivity. I also experienced this a lot, but it's really the bureaucracy. There is a lot of improvisation for an individual, but as an institution, it's still not so easy to improvise in that way.
In the aftermath, I thought I must put this whole thing behind me. Looking back, I'm seeing things that I experienced myself. But I question what the best way is to reflect this. Is it like a movie poster without the movie? It's quite abstract for me to understand everything I felt. Am I just touching the surface? The best way is just sharing my experience and what I feel. And this is enough because then it would not be didactic; it just reflects on our experience working with Tanzfabrik.
And today, when I was just looking at all of this, I feel maybe even with Tanzfabrik—what I know of them: just going to their space, looking at their program, and how they felt that they are one of the most open institutions that we could work with—that it goes much deeper: To maybe critique dance as a discipline for answers, rather than an institution or any sort of nationality.
I hope that our failed attempted helps someone in the future to continue working within this context. That's the hope in there.
Dance can be viewed as the most obvious art discipline to hold with complexity and nuance the decolonial discourse because coloniality is so much about bodies—whether those bodies are invested with power or divested of power, whether a body was marked superior on account of the color of their skin, the texture of the hair, or inferior based on the color of their eyes or the size of their hips—coloniality rationalized its voraciousness largely on the basis of bodies, their form, and their pigmentation. When one curates or experiences bodies in motion that are seemingly oblivious of the colonial discourse they perpetuate, the experience especially for People of Color is extreme, because the persistence of colonial imaging on the body can be so vivid, disarming, and disabling.
Further, dance implies an embodiment, a knitting together of comforts and discomforts with political systems, a visceral translator and barometer of all that threatens or nurtures the body—through its skin, its flesh, its kinesthesia, its anxieties, its placement in space, its congruence with an outside rhythm, its ease or dis-ease, its talking through internal and external flux. We saw this with the kind of work that emerged in the pandemic the world has just experienced. So, indeed, if a social system is being purged of and seared through with murders of Black bodies, protected by whiteness, then the body, all bodies (the individual body, the collective body, or the institutional body) and not just Black bodies, should be this conduit and register in some form this precarity.
Yet, of all the art disciplines, dance has recurred as a discipline seemingly the most outside of addressing colonial inheritances and continuities, something Twists sought to address in a multimodal, layered way. Dance about issues of feminism, queer politics, gender, and race have no doubt emerged, but less so for rigorous intersectionality and an awareness of how systemic prejudices around class, race, gender and sexual orientation conspire to produce atmospheres of trauma. Further, representing these issues on stage is one thing, meticulously enabling these issues, especially those of race, to inform infrastructure and institutions to talk about action and not just representation is quite another.
Ultimately, the call from the architects and thinkers of decolonial discourse to interrogate the colonial foundations of modernity is something that is much, much more than simply the representation of racism as a theme or subject on stage.
As Rolando Vázquez Melken implores:
Decoloniality is inspired by the struggles for autonomy of first nations; that is, the struggles for dignity. These are not struggles to become modern or being recognised as such, but rather to claim the right to constitute one’s own world and horizon with dignity and autonomy.
These were some of the issues that Twists attempted to address with participants across a range of backgrounds, to allow for a depth of interaction and possibilities for real transformation.
Over three years ago, Twists as a title was seen as remarkably apt for a project about decoloniality and dance. The idea behind a twist is its unexpected, heady, sometimes dizzying bends that threaten to break but are after all a bend—a pause, a deceleration maybe, but not a stop; a turn or a swerve not a reversal to nothing, an adaptation rather than obliteration. It was a well-advised title for a complex subject at a complex time informed by the pervasiveness of 500 years of coloniality. Met with difficulties within infrastructure, this very necessary project bent and shifted and attempted to accommodate the shortfalls and absences. New propositions were developed and dropped amidst difficult words, actions of racism, infrastructural limitations, and heavy hearts. So many decolonial and anti-colonial projects, especially those that have been started by predominantly white institutions, run into difficulties with the superficiality with which the content is handled, with infrastructure that cannot hold the weight and gravitas of what is being asked for and/or of a haphazardly envisioned group of people who are unable to sustain the ethical requirements of such a project. Twists imagined itself to be different, as the interviews above reveal. The experience, despite so much prior consideration, was ruptured and some of the hows and whys are probed above.
These reflections as a way of contributing to the space left empty as a result was not to simply piece together what might have happened but to genuinely connect Dreaming with Aftermath via a reflection of the Missteps. Members of the core group then employed methods of reflection as generative of something that could grow out of a healthy dose of realism—how to be, for example, productively analytical without making meaningless accusations or fault finding. This has produced afterthoughts by the four interlocutors that may be construed as heavy and ponderous.
However, the ebb and flow of optimism in the various suggestions for future curation of such a project dominates, based on an abiding and strong belief in the possibilities of change. So, we do indeed end with something that we started with, wiser perhaps but no less diminished in awareness of the centrality and rich possibilities of these considerations in curation specifically and generally in art institutional development. As global events continue to demonstrate, the curation of such projects is crucial for equity, redress, and restoration of dignity, but also for innovation and growth in compositional choices for dance and its curation, as much as for the organization, dissemination, and infrastructural development of this evolving form.
Jay Pather is a curator, choreographer, and academic. He is Professor at the University of Cape Town where he directs the Institute for Creative Arts. He curates the Infecting the City Public Art Festival and the ICA Live Art Festival in Cape Town and Afrovibes in several cities in the Netherlands. He has co-curated for the French Season Africa 2020/21 and Spier Light Art/Stellenbosch. Choreographic work includes re-imagining Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in Maboneng. A book about his work by Ketu Katrak, Jay Pather and Spatial Politics, was published in 2021. Recent publications include articles in Changing Metropolis ll, Rogue Urbanism, Performing Cities, Where Strangers Meet and a book that he edited called Acts of Transgressions, Live Art in South Africa. He has served as juror for the International Award for Public Art, as Board Member of the National Arts Festival of South Africa, member of the TURN Fonds 2 jury and was recently made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.
Choy Ka Fai is a Berlin-based Singaporean artist. His multidisciplinary art practice situates itself at the intersection of dance, media art, and performance. At the heart of his research is a continuous exploration of the metaphysics of the human body. Through research expeditions, pseudo-scientific experiments, and documentary performances, he appropriates technologies and narratives to imagine new futures of the human body. Choy Ka Fai’s projects have been presented in major institutions and festivals worldwide, including Sadler’s Wells (London, UK), ImPulsTanz (Vienna, Austria), and Tanz im August (Berlin, Germany). He was the resident artist at tanzhaus nrw in Düsseldorf (2017–2019) and at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin (2014–15). Ka Fai graduated with a MA in Design Interaction from the Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom.
Sigrid Gareis is a curator and, since 2017, co-director of the university course Kuratieren in den szenischen Künsten at the Paris Lodron University in Salzburg in cooperation with Free University Berlin and Ruhr-University Bochum. After studying anthropology, classical archaeology, and ancient history, she built up the departments of performing arts and international cultural work at the Siemens Arts Program in Munich. She was co-founder of dance and theater festivals in Moscow, Munich, Nuremberg, and Greifswald. From 2000 to 2009, she was founding director of Tanzquartier Wien and, from 2005 to 2007, founding president of the European Dance House Network (EDN). As secretary general, she established the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne in 2012. As a curator and dramaturge for dance and theater, she works for, among others, Wiener Festwochen, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, ZKM, and the Kölner Philharmonie. She is member of numerous juries (e.g., Culture – Creative Europe Programme, Hauptstadtkulturfond, and Allianz Kulturstiftung) and initiated two symposia for curation in the performing arts (2011 Beyond Curating in Essen, 2015 Show me the world in Munich). She is featured in various book publications.
Lia Rodrigues is a well-known Brazilian choreographer. She studied classical ballet and history in São Paulo. From 1980 to 1982, she was a dancer in the Compagnie Maguy Marin in France. When she returned to Rio de Janeiro, she founded the Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças in 1990 and in 1992 the Panorama Festival—the most important festival for contemporary dance in Brazil–which she directed for fourteen years. Since 2004, her Company has been based in the Favela da Maré in Rio de Janeiro where she has been involved in developing educational and artistic activities in partnership with the non-governmental organization Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré. At this favela, they opened the Centro de Artes da Maré in 2009 and the Escola livre de Danças da Maré (Free Dance-School of Maré) in 2011. The artistic pieces that she develops with her company are shown at renowned festivals and theatres. She was awarded the medal of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2007, and the SACD Prize for Choreography in 2016, and the Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands in 2014. In 2020, she was named Choreographer of the Year in Germany and France.
Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor is an artist, filmmaker, writer, and community organizer. Her roots are in the Southern United States, born in Mississippi and bred in Florida on former Timucuan land. Taylor's work manifests through text, dialogue, and video. Her work centers on themes of ritual, social politics, and identity mythology of Black and Indigenous folks. She is chiefly concerned with the creation of racial equity in art and theater. She has performed and presented work at the Barbican Centre of Art (London, UK) Chisenhale Gallery (London, UK), Hebbel Am Ufer (Berlin, Germany), Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin, Germany), Sophiensaele (Berlin, Germany), The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo, Norway), and National Museum of Norway (Stavanger, Norway). Taylor has been a resident at Tate Modern and the Irish Museum for Modern Art. Her writing has been commissioned by Vogue Germany, Haus der Kunst, and the Hamburger Bahnhof exhibition catalogue. She hosted and moderated the salon series, Black in Berlin until 2017. Her film, Muttererde, a series that calls for femme forms of ancestral history, has been screened in over ten countries. Taylor is based in Oslo, Norway.
 Pablo Larios, “Yvette Mutumba on Why Decolonizing Institutions ‘Has to Hurt’,” Frieze, July 6, 2020, accessed October 20, 2022, https://www.frieze.com/article/yvette-mutumba-why-decolonizing-institutions-has-hurt.
 Rolando Vázquez, “What We Know Is Built on Erasure,” The Contemporary Journal 1 (January 25, 2019), accessed November 10, 2022, https://thecontemporaryjournal.org/strands/on-translations/what-we-know-is-built-on-erasure-an-interview-with-rolando-vazquez.5.