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Dance exposes socio-political psychology

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The Ballet and Indlamu performance are forms of dance that have derived from decades of history with one representing a more Eurocentric view whilst the other is representative of the African Zulu people. These dance forms are respectfully both held in high regards in connection to their culture and share common themes such as originating from a royal lineage and having art forms that could be expressed for political use. The emergence and development of these dance forms also expose the circumstances and environment in which they are expelled such as the French and Zulu monarchy. This essay will attempt to explore the respective origins in which these dance forms exist and how the prowess of the Zulu warriors were demonstrated. The essay will also attempt to engage with the socio-political context of these dances to investigate evidence or lack thereof of these dance forms in concert theatre in South Africa during the 20s-40s.

Origins of dance forms

In the 17th century at the court of Czar, Ballet was first introduced (Au and Rutter, 2016). The king and queen would often take the role of leading the dancers who were usually noble amateurs in contrast to the skilled professionals which we’re currently exposed to in modern times. Modern Ballet emphasizes the feats of strength and agility whereas during its origins, emphasis was placed on gracefulness, elegance and refinement. The principal of court Ballet was to praise the State. Court Ballet was made up of politics, art and entertainment which were all intentional and carefully planned by the reigning monarchy during the time of Louis XIV (the Sun King). It was during his reign that the French court ballet reached its peak as his own birth had been rejoiced by the Ballet de la Felicite (1639). The Academie de Musique et de la Poesie and the composer Thibault de Courville also expressed an impactful influence on the court theatre’s development during the time. Evidence of court Ballet exposing various powerful themes such as of political themes are seen in The Ballet de la Delivrance de Renaud (1617).

Another dance form that was also taking rise was the Indlamu dance performed by the Zulu men in South Africa. The Zulu-speaking nation had risen to a status of regional power during the early 1800s under the leadership of king Shaka (De La Harpe & Derwent, 2001:34). Shaka’s control enforced a discipline of militant thinking which left a strong sense of warrior character and courage amongst his people. Due to the Zulu people’s prowess nature, it affected the growth and popularity of the concept of the Indlamu dance culture. The origins of the Indlamu dance form came from a military drill exercise that had prepared members for war (Asante, 2000: 68-69). The Indlamu dance acted as a symbol of power, dominance and self-control (Brill, 1977:113). Dancing before King Shaka was a system or process in which they could call out “cowards” from the ranks of the army explains a zulu man named Mtshapi (Firenzi, 2012). This contributed to maintaining the valour which was demanded in such an art form.

Influence of religion, tradition and socio-political context

During the times of the 20s-40s, Christianity included dancing as an intricate part of the performance of worship especially under the European influence. Apart from the religious superiority, Ballet had for a very long time remained the superlative feature of noble celebrations (Kinney and Kinney, 2013). The glory that is sustained in the dance of ballet was indoctrinated from childhood especially once the British had recognized their state ballet as a national asset which could be exported. The Russians participated in the taboo by maintaining the esteem of their ballet as their dancers were ranked as civil servants in the country as part of their status as they believed that their service was “essential and irreplaceable” (Stuart & Dyer, 1952). This saw a demand in Ballet wanting to be performed in concert theatre in Europe, America and South Africa.

The Christian view between Africans and their dance forms was perceived as distant according to the Europeans which made them less likely to support the Indlamu dance form. Such Europeans had referred to the Zulu Indlamu dancing as “sinful and barbaric” (Firenzi, 2012). Allan Gardiner (a missionary during 1836) had addressed one of the Zulu dancers as baring no resemblance to that of a human being. Many other missionaries expressed the Indlamu dance to be “savagery” and with lack of intention and function. The social political circumstances of the Zulu speaking people during the 1930s had left many of them oppressed. This was seen as a result of colonization, domination and economic exploitation where the introduction of political control systems were implemented (Firenzi, 2012). Several of the traditional dances were subdued at the time which contributed to the Indlamu dance being used as a form of protest. An example of this is seen is seen in January 1930 where a group of Indlamu dancers performed in support of the boycott campaign of Durban’s beer halls which were controlled by a municipal brewing monopoly (Erlmann, 1989).

Socio-political circumstance influence prevalence in concert theatre

The opening of the first public theatre in France was inspired by the development of court theatre. This largely paved way for great French playwrights Corneille and Racine (Au and Rutter, 2016). The literature of the time had a great impact on the court ballet as almost all the ballet themes transpired from literary sources. Printed librettos containing recìts (spoken or sung verses) and explanations of the symbols and intentions of the ballet’s were regularly given to the audience. In contrast, the history of a lot of South African theatre is that of performance rather than literature. Concert theatre had belonged to three groups in South Africa: primarily, to professional English theatre which had given rise to playwrights such as Stephen Black who wrote and produced numerous series between 1906 and 1930. Next were descendent of previous Dutch organizations- Afrikaans theatre- and the third belonged to the more traditional and cultured group such as the Zulus (Hauptfleish, 1992). The problem faced was that national theatre was colonialist in its attitudes and exclusive which found itself excluding many black individuals at the time. Indlamu dance often suffered in the hands of the state as support from those with the recourses was limited making their appearance in concert theatre scarce whilst due to the appeal across the globe, ballet had received more attention.

We are able to deduce that although these two dance forms showed common power in expressing political agendas, social status and royal relationships, one art form had received more recognition, records and respect when viewing the evidence in the eyes of many Europeans. Due to colonial construct, Indlamu dance was not a prominent performance style in concert theatre however, often for the gaze of others. The Indlamu dance ensures the prowess of its dancers in the same efforts that the Ballet dance instills the elegance and high status appeal it had implemented during the 20s-40s.

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