A New Ecology of knowledges for South American Theatre and Dance Practices

By Elias Cohen (Chile).

The word “New” is totally subjective and misleading but I like to use it because brings possibilities and refreshment. As a theatre director, choreographer and an academic, I am experiencing this turning point within the new generations of theatre and dance makers and my personal perspective about the role of theatre and dance today. There is the tiredness of the traditional markets for stage arts, the normal theatre houses, the normal way to convoke audiences to see your art, to receive critics that validates your artistic work (or destroy your work) and so on…

South America was very influence from the Eurocentric ways of theatre and dance making, that also means to take and accept the Eurocentric philosophy and everything that comes with. When Europe got tired from its very rational and naturalistic and scientific perception of reality in the 60´s, theatre and dance makers turned into the Asiatic perspectives and embodying practices and its profound and ancient ways of perceiving reality. At that time, even at the beginning of the second millennium, the deep South America and its indigenous voices were too far and estrange, I could say too shamanic in way, to really use it as a theatre or dance source of inspiration. Times had chance and today we have a much deeper and richer understanding of the deep South Americanknowledge that can be incorporated in our artistic and daily life practices as Human Artist.

A big amount of theatre and dance makers are creating communities outside of the mainstream cities, stablishing different ways of conceiving their role as artists that must sell its art but and artists that has a life style interconnected to nature and the human community putting less effort in the traditional performing markets but using nature as stage or rural places (schools, family houses, streets).

As artistic director of KiM Teatro Danzante, we are since several years pushing that path and now a days our workshops and retreats in nature to rediscover the path of actor – dancer are well known and request in several countries of ths southern Americas (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia).

I would like to share with you the main aspects and key “Living Epistemologies” (or living Ideas) that we are using in this turning point:

First, the replacement of cities with natural ecologies. The experience to be and work in/ with nature leads to the immediate learning about one´s own nature.

Both, Deep Ecology Movement Europe) and the Pachasophia (South America), speaks about reversing the anthropocentric perspective of man, and returning to the inter-dependant relationship of man and nature, and seeing the human as part of the ecosystem. It is a notion that is shared since a few thousand years ago by Ancient traditions across cultures from all the Americas (North to South, e.g. Dakota, Aymara, Quechua, Mapuche) as well Asian (Taoist, Buddhist and Shamanist) just to mention a few, stating a non-hierarchical paradigm opposed to the current position of man who is imposing his power and exploiting nature, one of the many world views that it is highly influenced by Western culture. Let me introduce you to some of our key concepts or “living ideas”, as we term them and that accompany our work such as 1) reciprocity, 2) totality and 3) vital energy are very much influenced and informed mainly by Ancient traditions. (We call them “living ideas” because they are all directly connected to our practice.)

  1. Ayni(Aymara), the law of reciprocity, with its iconic expression of “crossed hands” is the law of maintaining the balance with the community (on a micro) to the cosmos (on a macro) by giving and receiving. It is a fundamental principle of how to engage and emerge into the practical work as well as maintaining the mental, spiritual openness and transparency during the process.
  2. The theory of Holón (from Greek holos- whole), the part-whole, coined by Arthur Koestler, refers to something that is total, an entity in itself, and simultaneously, a part of something bigger.
  3. Vital energy (macro, micro, invisible) containing the conduct of energies in our physical, subtle and causal bodies.

I would like to explain to you about the validation of those may be more unconventional concepts as people might tend to perceive them not as valid as other “more academically respected” perspectives filled with cultural or racial prejudices such as: “Those wild/ primitives indigenous in the jungle don´t really know anything..” etc.) and open the space to the fact how the arts and culture are always related to politics and power. Although we might see a global tendency of recognizing cultural diversity, the same cannot be said about the recognition of the ´diversity of knowledge systems underlying the practices of different social groups across the globe.` (any kind of minority groups have the same equal right of validated knowledge.) Realizing the lack of the “equality of opportunities” to different kinds of knowledge the theory of Ecology of knowledges by the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santose merged whose aim is to replace the “monoculture of scientific knowledge”.

Our main set of practices and knowledges are driven to a re-actualization of the profession of the actor reflecting about the new paradigms that are informed by old and new knowledges. For that path of practices, we coin the term “Asia Los Andes”. Translated from the Spanish, it literally means “Asia, Los Andes”, but can also be pronounced as “Hacia Los Andes” meaning “towards Los Andes”. This integration does not only generate an inclusive vision of both opposite cultural polarities (Asian and South American traditions), but it also recognises all the influences “in-between” those poles, foremostly, euro-centric philosophy, transpersonal psychology, the sciences and somatic techniques. Part of our mission is to establish a new epistemology for the performing arts that are emerging from South America, and that is informed by Andean and Amazonian concepts, ancestral traditions constituting a new force and understanding in this part of the hemisphere. Our performative work and teachings are a manifestation of creating a new-old, updated cultural identity. As the old power structures have fallen apart in almost all parts of the world, new and coherent political and cultural worldviews are needed to reflect and become active agents to all those changes.

 Reflecting why we as humans dance brings us back to the most primordial movement that occur in the universe and our biologies. “What means dance from the universal and biological scale? It is the primordial “organised” movement that generates harmonious, coherent and sensitive interactions to develop creativity and diversity through what keeps us alive. When the human dances, he/she is embodying the primordial movement of the Kosmos, with a capital K as coined by the Ancient Greeks referring to the totality of existence which is comprised of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms and not only its physical dimension.

The Spanish term “Danzante” does not have an accurate translation. It would be the same as dancer (in Span. Bailarín). However, a “Danzante” is a dancer whose higher purpose of dancing is to offer himself to the universe. It is not an egocentrically driven dancer who “wants to show off”, but a dancer who dances as an act of a higher service and transcendence.

Remember that I am not writing from the mainstream theatre houses and practices in the South American Scene but from a “new-old” voice that is emerging with passion and vision about the re-understanding and reconnecting role of theatre and dance practice between all sentient beings and the evolution of the artistic existence.

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