ARTWOLFE sat down with director Haymich Olivier and co-director Tuli Shityuwete of the Namibian dance company, First Rain Dance Theatre and asked some questions. We chatted for a while and here you can find the full-length interview:
ARTWOLFE: When and why did First Rain Dance Theatre come about? Who initiated it?
Tuli: Well, we started in 2010… But, initiated it, who initiated it?
Haymich: The idea for First Rain Dance Theatre started developing when I still at university and Trixie (Munyama) was one year my senior and we were the only two Namibians before Tuli came. We knew that we needed to develop a dance company… so we started thinking of how to do it and when she came back, she had to start writing proposals and things. I can remember we were at my parent’s house trying to write something, and it was raining. We were trying to thinking of a name. And I said, ‘First Rain Dance Theatre’, she’s like, ‘Ja, sure, that’s a cool name.’ And that’s basically how the name came about.
But the actual company developed over years and meetings… When we actually started practising it was 2010. But that first discussion probably happened in 2008, while I was still studying. 2010, after growing frustrated with the fact that nothing is happening I decided to just kind of touch base with a bunch of professional dancers that I knew and just to see what they were up to. That was the year that Tuli came back from Cape Town. And, I called them all to my house, and we had a meeting. I told them that I’m not dancing right now and that I’m frustrated with the fact that I’m not dancing. And that I want to start a company, and that Trixie and I had this discussion some time ago and that we thought of naming the company ‘First Rain Dance Theatre’. But then we started working regardless of a name, we just started to commit to showing up at my house, practising on the lawn and in the garage…
Tuli: Ja, we used to do our grande allegro on the lawn and the rest of the class we would do in the garage.
Haymich: Yes – and we started improvising and the second day we got together, my friend Lize phoned me and was like: “Haymich, Hendrick is having a birthday party, don’t you and your dancers want to come perform?” And I thought it was a sign. So, that was our first performance, and it was so cool. Some of that work we still have as a part of our repertoire. And that’s how it started… very organically and from one performance, which was really someone’s birthday party, other things started happening very quickly after that.
ARTWOLFE: Artistically, is there one choreographic voice or are your works created more collaboratively? How do you share the work of creating dances?
Tuli: I don’t know, I think the way we work together is not very considered, but we compliment each other very very well. So, I’m quite good at generating material or coming up with movement. And then, Haymich is really really good at constructing, which I am… not so good at (laughs).
Haymich: We have this strange entity that exists between the two of us. It’s like a meeting of minds that allows us to have a really really special kind of synergy. It’s not like we don’t clash, it just happens that when our mind, our collective mind is not made up. And luckily, our dance background is very much alike in terms of the dance training that we have had. Studying at UCT and both doing the African stream, exposed us to the same kind of styles. And growing up in Namibia and wanting to really further dance, or being passionate about dance, we ended up seeking training in the same kind of genres.
Tuli has a big range of styles that she’s been trained in, which makes the dance vocabulary interesting and quite varied. It’s easy for us to speak to any kind of client because of that big variety that exists. And that makes it easy for us to agree on movements and phrases and execution and whatever else we want to say with a specific choreography.
Tuli: And I think that also our style of communication helps a lot because sometimes, obviously we have very different views for how something should turn out or look or even, happen. But – we’ve never had a fight. We’ve lived together in one room, sharing a bed, for a month and – you know, we’ve never had a fight. We’ve had disagreements but we just talk. And talk and talk and talk until we identify the common ground that works for both of our artistic visions.
Haymich: And then we just do that! (laughs)
Tuli: And then we just do that! (both laugh)
ARTWOLFE: What do you think your role is for dance in Namibia? Or what do you want your role to be?
Tuli: I think it’s nice to think of ourselves as a professional company. But, at the moment, there is not one single Namibian professional dance company…
Haymich: So, us being a company…
Tuli: … Is more, establishing the space for a professional company. At the moment, it’s about capacity building, it’s knowledge-sharing. So it’s building capacity not only with young dancers but with management, choreographers…
And then, knowledge-sharing, on a completely different level which is to corporate sponsors, investors, stakeholders, partners. Because people often have very different expectations for dance. You know, they’ll say, “Hey, can you give us a fifteen-minute choreography for tomorrow night, please. And we’d like you to do it for free, because it will give you exposure.” And it’s our responsibility to also say, “This is our budget. This is our cost… Next time, contact us two weeks in advance minimum.”
ARTWOLFE: What do you see for the future of FRDT? Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Haymich: I think before we answer that question we have to completely answer the previous one. Because basically, what we talked about just now was whether or not we actually are a company. But not really about how we see ourselves in dance, in Namibia, in Windhoek, right now. To some extent, Tuli answered it because we are about capacity building but mostly we are beginning to feel a certain urgency of wanting to work everyday, consistently, full-time for FRDT. So I think that it our biggest goal…
Tuli: Ja, we’re trying to get to a space where we can do that.
Haymich: And in that way I think that we can feel more our contribution and to actually make it more real. What we would like this contribution to be, in Windhoek especially, is to create a space where we can train dancers and create a way where bodies can move in a way that they absorb different kinds of styles of movement quite easily. That they are not exclusively contemporary dancers but that they are quite versatile in how they express themselves. That they are quite vocal, that’s what I want to say.
That we can create a space where we can draw in all different styles of dance that exist in Windhoek right now, whether it is from ballet to ballroom to hip hop to kwaito. To create a real melting pot of what dance in Windhoek is like; to reflect on a broader, on a more national scale on what dance in Namibia is like.
Tuli: So, a modern, Namibian dance aesthetic that references contemporary and traditional bodies.
Haymich: And social, as well, because on a social scale dance is growing much faster than dance on a theatre platform or on a traditional platform, for that matter. And that speaks to the contemporary Namibian, you know? Although it is influenced by lots of things, traditional dance styles, contemporary movements that people see on television, contemporary stuff that they from us out of the studio, but that is the style of dance that is moving fastest. And if we can draw that back into it, and kind of, not manage it or control it but just be part of that evolution, I think it would be really really exciting. So that is where we see ourselves right now. And that it what we would like to create soonest. But now I forgot your second question!
ARTWOLFE: Long term dreams/goals?
Tuli: Well, we can send you our mission and vision statement. We have a couple of dreams. You know, a Namibian dance festival and that dance is one of the exports that Namibia becomes famous for. That’s our, BHAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. (both laugh)
Haymich: It’s quite a big commitment. The vision is a massive commitment.
Tuli: It’s our lives.
Haymich: At the end of Anima, the second time around, we were sitting once again on a Monday evening having wine at Wine Bar, feeling completely drained. And Tuli reminded me that it was going to be like this. It was going to take everything of you. And I told her so many times that we are drained and we have not even taken the time to celebrate the success of Anima. And I only recently became comfortable with saying that it was a successful endeavour.
First Rain Dance Theatre is based on the idea to create a dance entity that lives and provides space for dancers and artists and choreographers and you know, all kinds of art (and that’s why we call it theatre) to go beyond and to exist for a long long time. If it is within our reach, and if it can happen, to be a complete National Dance Company, just as an entity which represents Namibian dance on all different types of platforms.
ARTWOLFE: Do you have any advice for other artists? What do wish someone had said to you two five years ago?
Tuli: I wish somebody had told me how to write a fucking proposal… And a business plan.
Haymich: That was supposed to be the first thing that I learned when I went to university. And I should have just been writing proposals for… not just that but every year it should have been a course.
Tuli: You cannot have an arts degree without learning, I’m sorry, but without learning how to write your proposal… It’s ridiculous.
Haymich: And learning how to draw up a budget…
Tuli: That is a – it’s a skill that you have to have. There’s no ifs, whys or buts, and we just learnt, we just learnt flying by the seat of our pants. We learnt through trial and error. Even, you know, trying to get sponsorship for Anima, in hindsight, our approach… you know… we Googled it! (laughs) That was me, sitting in front of Google, looking at WikiHow – ‘how do I get sponsorship?’
So take the time to give yourself the tools to lay the foundation. Because you can have the most incredible idea in the world, but you need to be able to execute it. So you need to give yourself the capacity. And it’s difficult doing it as you go. It’s not easy. What advice would you give, Hayms?
Haymich: Work with people that are commited. Even if it’s just on a project basis. Make sure that people will make time for your project and that you have a meeting of minds. It’s very difficult to negotiate freelancers’ schedules therefore when you start choosing a crew or a cast you have to be certain that they are committed and that they have the drive and the passion to see it through. Halfway through a dance piece you don’t want to have to fill up a body and find someone new or reconstruct your choreography because all of a sudden three, four dancers are missing…
ARTWOLFE: How fixed is the cast?
Tuli: Very very fluid, it has to be. Because until we can afford to pay people full-time and have contracts where we are the employers of people, we cannot and do not want to say, you know, “Hey you have to be here now and…” People have lives, people have jobs, people have other priorities. It’s just the world that we’re working in at the moment. But we’re hoping to get there, someday.
Haymich: And it’s an obstacle or a challenge but it’s also exciting. Because every now and then you are able to allow a new body into the group that has a completely… that shifts the dynamic a little bit. And also that brings in a new vocab and a different style and training and movement vocabulary.
Tuli: Are you thinking of Oliver? Because I’m thinking of Oliver.
Haymich: Ja, ja for certain. And Oliver was very unexpected. You know and I’m thinking of how Angelo grew. And at the beginning it was so difficult because he went through the training or the workshop period and he struggled to kind of, feel safe with the group. Through our workshop periods, we try and break the ego down a little bit. So that we are all just dancers regardless of your background, so that you don’t feel too insecure or too confident.
Tuli: Because egos are just the killer of learning and creativity and expression…
Haymich: …and growth…
Tuli: … and vulnerability. I mean, you need to have an ego but it can really…
Haymich: It has its place but in a studio where you work so closely with people and you have to share so much, in such a subconscious way, I mean, the body speaks in a very subconscious way, you have to be able to let the blocks go. And ego is a very big block for that.
Tuli: And they bubble out in, not very nice ways sometimes.
ARTWOLFE: Is there anything else you guys want to add?
Haymich: I think as much as we are tired, it’s generally been a very exciting year. We’ve been able to do a lot of things and it’s tiring and it’s exciting. I mean, we started with The Journey, after The Journey we did Anima, after Anima we did…
Haymich: Katatura, no… we first did The Namas then we did Katatura… and then after Katatura we did the College’s Annual Dance Production. And then we did Anima again and then…
Tuli: … then two weeks later we did…
Haymich: … we did Passion Fruit
ARTWOLFE: Is that just this year?!
Haymich: Just this year. From January up until the end of July. So, it’s been very exciting. And it’s been good because it gave us a really good jump-start, we are properly out there now, people know about First Rain Dance Theatre…
Tuli: And we are getting calls every single day now.
Haymich: So in that regard it was really really good for us. It’s useful…
Tuli: And now we have a solid, positive, track record. That is worth a lot.
Haymich: It’s worth everything…
Tuli: Because next time we try and do some fundraising we say, ‘This is what we’ve done, these are the results, this is how many people we’ve reached, this is how much money we’ve made.’
ARTWOLFE: And practically, you have a repertoire now.
Tuli: Ja, we’ve got a pretty big repertoire at the moment, corporate and creative.
Haymich: Also, I think the other really important thing for me to acknowledge is the growth of dance generally. That there is an audience out there now, not just an audience that is willing to show up but to pay for it because right now we get a lot of corporates interested I using us for entertainment as well. We have… there are dancers that are interested in being trained. And there are people that are interested in choosing dance as a career path. Those things are important for me because when I came back it felt like none of that existed…
Tuli: …just crickets…
Haymich: …and that I was crazy for wanting to do it here. So it feels like I have come to an end of a certain part of the journey of creating dance here. And that’s a good feeling.
Tuli: And I think, just to end off, we’ll leave you with our maxim, which is: Lord grant us the power to bloom where we are planted. And that’s what keeps us going when we are just at the end of our…
Haymich: And this is a dry, dry area… (laughter)
Tuli: But you know, this is where we are planted and this where dance has significance for us.