LIVENESS: nora chipaumire on how we experience performance

Emily Kilroy, BFA Dance, BA Arts Management at Ohio State

Oct 07, 2019

nora chipaumire

I was first introduced to nora chipaumire during the summer of 2018 as an attendee of the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine. This festival, which gathers countless performing artists from all over the world, had brought in nora as an artist in residency. At the festival I was not only able to take class with nora for a whole week, but I was given the opportunity to watch her company perform portrait of myself as my father (2016) as well as a workshopped version of 100% POP. Ever since my exposure to nora and her work two summers ago, I have been intrigued by her persona, process of artmaking, and much more. Upon hearing of her visit to the Wexner Center for the Arts to perform a piece I had seen in development, I knew this was my opportunity to dive deeper into grasping her work as a dancing artist and performer myself.

nora is a multidisciplinary, international dance artist creating living and breathing artwork that investigates colonialism, the black moving body, gender roles, and African stereotypes. She was born in Mutare, Zimbabwe and currently works out of New York. She holds a law degree from the University of Zimbabwe’s School of Law, as well as both an MA in Dance and an MFA in Choreography & Performance from Mills College. Her works have earned her a plethora of accolades including a 2018 Guggenheim fellowship and three Bessie Awards.

I was recently able to listen in on an interview (September 14, 2019) with nora and Dr. Nadine George-Graves, an acclaimed dance scholar, author, and current professor at Ohio State in Dance and Theatre. I was struck by nora’s sense of calm and assured vivacity. Having seen some of nora’s films and performances, I was surprised that her demeanor presented a dramatic contrast to the unapologetic loudness that punctures and grounds her work. While I was struck by nora’s continual mentioning of “liveness”, it was not until after the interview that I understood what she meant. Sure, it is easy to talk about human bodies as living entities, however, nora proposes that an understanding of “liveness”, especially when it comes to performance, is more complex. She described her skin as being permeable and breathing. Her sensitivity to bodies and to dance ephemerality allows her to challenge our notions of performance. What I believe she means by “liveness”, is that the immediacy of her moving body on the stage and the vulnerability of her performance allow audiences to connect with her through their own physicalities and perceptions. Her rigor, both physically and mentally, on stage allows her to be present within as well as to transcend the historical gender and racial connotations placed on her black African body — to be an “animus” as she describes herself.  

Giving audiences a sense of “genre angst”, nora’s work lives outside of our traditional expectations regarding performance, dance, visual art, and more. She presents the African body that is both informed by the past and rooted in the present by utilizing African dance principles and aesthetics, music technology, symbolic costuming, text, and more. With an understanding of the white male patriarchy that has shaped the majority of educational and artistic institutions in America, there is power behind nora’s live presence within these spaces. nora’s work challenges and critiques the very institutions she performs in by placing her black African female dancing body at the epicenter and focal points of their foundations. 

–Emily Kilroy, BFA Dance, BA Arts Management at Ohio State

This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led project supported by the Ronald and Deborah Ratner Distinguished Teaching Award. Students from departments across the university composed responses to the center’s 2019–20 Performing Arts season under the direction of award recipient and Department of Dance Professor Karen Eliot and Manager of Public University Programs Alana Ryder with support from Performing Arts Director Lane Czaplinski.

Image: nora chipaumire, 100% POP, photo: Ian Douglas