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Interview with Andile Sotiya

- 'The Stadium'

by Katie Phillips

June, 2003

The showing in The Robin Howard Theatre of Andile Sotiya’s new work in progress, ‘The Stadium’ was a sell-out. This is a testament either to Andile’s popularity as a choreographer, teacher and friend, or to his eclectic style and promise as an up-and-coming choreographer.

Always intrigued by the way that dance companies work, Andile developed and created his own, Dancenomad, on becoming Associate Artist at The Place for the period 2002-3. Not wanting to fit any ‘box’ or stereotype with regards to his training and dance background as well as his life and upbringing, he told me that he has always lived in a world where people can work and create together. Alongside this, Andile is often seen around The Place with his bags, travelling from one place to another for his work – he says “I just feel like a dance nomad a lot of the time”.

His work ‘Stadium’ is engaging, interesting, dark (literally) and compelling, revolving around games, issues and including great dancing. There is much packed into the performance environment – a live DJ, thumping Eminem, video projection, sliding ramp, scaffolding, fences, props and costume changes. The set up is unconventional with the seats of the auditorium pushed back so that the audience can surround the action.

Of the inspiration for this piece Andile says, “Everywhere you go there is a stadium, they are just different in how they look and what they represent.” In South African culture stadiums are used for public entertainment including sports and concerts as well as political and social events, even including births, deaths and funerals. In the performance, there is a deeper, darker side to the choreographic intention as well an enjoyable physicality. The dancers warm up like athletes, duet like lovers and line up facing the wall as if in front of a firing squad.

“I’m always looking at the space,” he says of the set-up. “I like to question why things must always fit into a box, especially in the traditional theatre auditorium – why does the audience have to be on one side in darkness, and the dancers on the other in light? ‘Stadium’ is about the creation of something live, where the audience are spectators, participants in the action as opposed to passive onlookers. I like to watch audiences watching the piece. It’s a challenge to see how the audience views the work, sitting on three sides of the stage and how they react to so much energy in a confined space.”

The audience really does become part of the action, and are fully immersed in the intense atmosphere of the piece. Repeatedly plunged into darkness with intermittent flashes of light, audience members are transformed into spectators looking on from behind the fencing, their heads moving from one side of the stage to the other trying to keep up with the vigorous pace of the movement as if they were watching the events of a game on a pitch.

The dancers throw themselves against walls, run full pelt around the space, jump and start, the sweat flying from their brows. Alongside this, aspects of the nature of competition and success are explored, depicted by the cubic restriction/confinement of the black squares the dancers move on and around. We see the restrictive solitary cycle of competition both in sport (including dance) and life, highlighted by the video projection of a cityscape of high rise tower blocks on the back wall. This is also shown literally in the uphill struggle of Marcus Tesch’s dangerously gymnastic solo on the ramp, reminiscent of the familiar dream of trying to climb a hill only to fall back down just before you get to the top.

Andile reminds me that the showing is the result of a period of research and development. “Having been rehearsing so intensely in the studio space surrounded by four walls, this was a great opportunity to sit back and just watch – to see what worked and what didn’t, and where the piece can be taken. For example we didn’t have the ramp in the studio – the first time we used it was in the theatre space – perhaps this didn’t work in the theatre as well as we had anticipated. However, there won’t be changes so much as developments. Part of me is still on a journey, and I’m trying to figure out what is my style and where to go choreographically”.

Recently, Andile’s son Xavier Ntsiky Andriambolanoro Sotiya was born. He says of fatherhood, “I don’t know how it’s changed me, it’s weird. Sometimes I get home and say ‘there’s a baby there!’. He is my sanity when I get home from work, to just look at him in his own little world. It helps to ground me and I can’t wait to watch him grow and develop.”

Andile asked me to say a big thank you to his dancers, everyone at The Place, and all those who helped to make the showing a success.

To catch the finished product, ‘Stadium’ will be performed in The Riley Theatre, Leeds on the 11 th October 2003, and again at The Place Theatre, London on the 2 nd and 3 rd December 2003.

Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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