Bailey Snyman: Taking back dance

You were born in Kimberly tell us a little bit about how you got into dance and what attracted you to this art form?

I was never really interested in dance while I was in Kimberley I was however more interested in Theatre and Acting. When I was in grade 10 I was fortunate enough to have one of my Mentors Mr. Aidan Smith sponsor a trip to the National Arts Festival for me. It was at this time that I encountered the First Physical Theatre Company and their work in a programme titled ‘Declarations’. It was my experience of watching this work that made me realize that I wanted to head to Rhodes after Matric to Study Drama. At the beginning of my 3rd year of study I auditioned for a course in Dance Repertory taught by Professor Gary Gordon. It was at this time that my passion and attraction for dance and physical theater emerged.

Who would you say are some of the people that have had the strongest influence on you and how?

Gary Gordon (Professor, Friend, Mentor), Andrew Buckland (Mime and theatre training), Aidan Smith (Drama teacher and mentor from school), Juanita Finestone-Praeg (friend and creative inspiration) Nicola Haskins (business partner and creative soul) PJ Sabbagha (for his amazing creative spirit) and Terry King (helped my understand the importance of technical training)

You have recently won the Standard Bank young artists of the year award, tell us about what this means for you as an artist?

Winning the Award is a great personal achievement; I think that there has always been a misconception that in order to be successful at an art form one needs to practice from an early age. However winning this award shows that with hard work, passion and determination that major artistic goals and credibility can be achieved. The award also allows for me to expose a greater and more varied audience to my work as well as the work of my company the Matchbox Theatre Collective.

Speaking about that you and Nicola Haskins started the Matchbox Theatre Collective; tell us a little bit about that and what was the aim behind it?

The company was formed in June 2006. There were/are 2 main goals. Artistically to make and perform work that is narrative and character driven and that is accessible to an audience. We also wanted to play with our training in dance, mime, theatre design, choreography, dramatic literature and physical theatre. The second aim is to work extensively with secondary and tertiary level education in order to educate, and garner an appreciation of dance and theatre.

Tell us a little bit about your choreography, how do you go from a concept or an idea in your mind to a complete dance piece that people are able to engage with?

My process is always inspired by moments or conversations that I encounter. I never really know what I want to make work about until the concept approaches me. I think it is important to be receptive and open to my creative spirit and should never try to control what it wants to express. After the impulse to make work has come to me I then focus predominantly on sourcing music that will suit the mood and themes of the work. Once I have built a working soundtrack I then start delineating scenes and narrative structures. When I finally get to the rehearsal process I am then at a good point in the conceptual process to allow the creative impulse of the performers to surface and for the work to start shaping itself.

You have also worked on African Footprint which was very big; tell us a little bit about that experience and what influence it has had on you?

This was a very interesting experience for me in that it challenged many of the foundations of my performance training. My time at Rhodes and with the First Physical Theatre focused on the internal emotional and expressive landscape of the dance performer; however, Footprint was more about the presentation and technical performance of dance. My time with Footprint really opened my creative mind to express in more collective and accessible ways. I think this experience really allowed for me to understand what kind of choreographer/dancer I wanted to become. Bringing these two performance spaces together.

Dance is a somewhat disrespected art, what do you think needs to be done in order to ensure that there are more spaces for performers such as yourself to showcase your work?

I would disagree that dance is a disrespected art. The arts in general are often seen in a lesser light. However, the major problem area lies in funding and financing of the arts. Things are starting to shift in that more cities are starting smaller festivals however it would be fantastic for other major cities to take on national dance festivals.

You have performed in stages in both SA and abroad where do you think local dance is compared to other parts of the world?

South African dance is in a beautiful place, however, I do often feel that we need to start training more evocative and exciting choreographers. We have many very well trained dancers but fewer innovative choreographers. I have found in my travels that there is a spirit in South African dancers and dance theatre that is not evident in many other places in the world. There is an immense drive, need and desire to move and to express narratives and experiences through dance locally.

You will be presenting a work called Moffie at the National arts festival tell us a little bit about that?

Being Gay in the Military has for centuries been a matter of debate. Only recently has the United States lifted their ‘Don’t ask Don’t tell’ policy. This topic has always been of interest to me as I was in Standard 7 (Grade 9) when South Africa’s mandatory conscription policy was dropped. I remember being a young teenager and constantly worrying about what I would do if I were ever to be enlisted in the military.

Earlier in 2011, I stumbled upon Andre Carl van der Merwe’s remarkable novel Moffie and was immediately inspired to bring the themes of this story to life through a Dance Theatre Production. His novel spans multiple times of the protagonist Nicholas van der Swart’s life; from his youth, through his teen years and to the time when he is enlisted in the military under the then Apartheid Regime’s mandatory conscription policy. In the acknowledgements van der Merwe writes, ‘As a gay man with deep spiritual desires, my only way of processing the confusion I felt about my sexuality was to write about it. The church regarded me as sinful, the government told me it was unlawful and the rest of society considered it offensive’; this comment is one that resounds with many people within the Homosexual community and it is this fear and confusion that I hope ‘Moffie’ will reveal and interrogate.

Using the themes of the original novel, ‘Moffie’ will look at both men and women in the military, as I believe that this issue is one of equal importance to both gay men and women. Shockingly during my research I came across the term ‘Medical Torture’ and a study called ‘The Aversion Project’ which found that gay conscripts in the South African Defence Forces during the Apartheid era had been forced to submit to ‘curing’ their homosexuality, both by electroshock therapies and by botched sex changes.

It has always been my goal as a Dancer and Choreographer to bring stories to light that can potentially change the perceptions of the viewing audience through presenting topical and sometimes controversial stories on the stage. ‘Moffie’ is one such story and I believe is of critical importance.

Did Andre contribute to this production at all?

Andre has been incredibly supportive but has also made it very clear to me that this is my interpretation and imagining of his novel. He has not been prescriptive in any way. I am humbled that he believes in my ability as a dance theatre practitioner to allow me to run freely with my creative impulses.

Homosexuality is a very taboo issue in many spheres of South African society, did you have any reservations at all about tackling this subject matter?

It is for the very notion that Homosexuality is a taboo subject that I shouldn’t have reservations in tackling this subject matter. The story isn’t about being gay, it’s about being human.

Gay people have by and large been very marginalized in South Africa what value do you think works such as this add to us speaking more frankly about homosexuality in South Africa?

For me the main goal is for people to see a lifestyle choice as merely that; a choice. At the end of the day we are all thinking, feeling, spiritual beings who should be allowed to express ourselves as free, unique and positive agents in the world.

What are some of your future plans and initiatives that you are working on?

I am currently busy on a work for the South African Performing Arts Conservatory with Nicola Haskins for NAF. I will also be making a work on the Wits Students later in the year inspired by Cormack McCarthy’S The ROAD, as well as, touring with Dada Masilos SWAN LAKE.

What can audiences expect from you this year in Grahamstown?

Audiences can expect to be taken on an emotional and poetic dance theatre journey.


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