Twirl by Twirl: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

John Cartwright and Ishmael Konney, Photo by Yukina Sato

One of the great things about graduate school is the ability to collaborate with different people from many different backgrounds. For this project I decided to partner up with my fellow 1st year MFA student, Ishmael Konney, or more affectionally known as Ishy. This collaboration began when Ishy approached me with an idea of combining African dance and ballet. His impetus for the piece was a costume from his native Ghana, the Ghanaian Smock or Fugu/Batakari. It originated in Northern Ghana and was traditionally worn by leaders and chiefs but is now adorned by many across the entire country. The smock is large, with a skirt like bottom, and the fabric is shown off through turning and spiral movements. Ishy decided to reach out to me because he wanted to see what the smock would look like when ballet elements were combined with African dance elements. 

We tasked ourselves by first coming up with a series of steps from our respective dance genres. I pulled from my classical ballet vocabulary and Ishy incorporated movement from traditional Ghanaian dance. We then began to assemble our steps in an alternating pattern: this phrase from Ghanaian dance, that phrase from ballet; each of us embodying the movement to the best of our abilities. Once we had the sequence we added the costumes. Ishy has two beautiful smocks (pictured above) which are hand sewn and artfully constructed. They are relatively heavy garments so it took me some use to get the hang of turning and moving comfortably in it. 

We presented our dance for our Choreography Workshop course and received gracious and insightful feedback. After reflecting on our notes from the process and the feedback received in class, Ishy and I ultimately decided to leave the project in its “work-in-progress” state in order to continue working on the various other projects for the course.  However, it is something we both want to come back to and explore further. 

I’ll let you read Ishy’s block post here to get a feel for what his experience was like and to see where he hopes to go with the project. As for me, this collaboration was about exploring another genre of dance, learning about and from my colleague, sharing my experience with him, and learning something new about myself. This project sparked the idea of delving into the questions about male identity in dance: what is masculine movement? What is feminine movement? How do the clothes or costumes we wear influence the movement and the audience’s perception of the performer(s)? What does it mean to see two male identifying bodies twirling around in smock (that just so happen to resemble dresses or skirts)? How do different cultures perceive what is masculine and what is feminine? Ultimately, this project has garnered more questions than answers, but that is the beauty of collaboration and the process of creation. I look forward to working toward finding answers and asking more questions as I develop both my working partnership and caring friendship with my new buddy Ishy. 

2 thoughts on “Twirl by Twirl: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

  1. I love it. I would push you two to further think about power.
    What is the importance behind needing or wanting to be read as masculine?
    How are masculine dancers treated in Ghanaian and American culture?
    What power is associated with male dancing bodies and how does that inform your work?
    Can the same movements be masculine, feminine, and nonbinary?
    How does the language surrounding those movements determine their implicit gendering?

    Looking forward to seeing how this work develops further!


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