An Afrofuturist history of the universe from the Big Bang to dreamshout death. Propelling lived experiences onto a cosmic scale, Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley shapeshift through poetic text and movement. Step into an alternative speculation on how to orbit bodies, which carry histories of marginalisation and anti-blackness. Both Alexandrina (AH) and Seke (SC) spoke with The Fountain about Black Holes in more depth, as well as their plans for the month.
TF: Are you excited to be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?
AH: Yes – I last performed here in 2015 and have been up to the festival since – writing for The Sick Of The Fringe. I got to see lots of inspiring work. It feels great to be presenting a piece of work like Black Holes for Fringe audiences. The work sits between theatre, dance and poetry. It’s a work on a larger scale than we’ve made before and can’t wait to share it. It’s exciting to have more than a couple of nights run, which is quite rare for contemporary dance.
SC: I’m particularly excited to be part of this year’s British Council Showcase. It’s such a political and challenging selection of works. It’s great to be programmed alongside friends and colleagues whose work I admire.
TF: Black Holes certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
AH: Seke and I had wanted to work together for a while and like many of our contemporaries, we had wanted to make a work that gently addressed the underrepresentation of black British experiences. From our experiences as dancers, we also wanted to explore an embodied way of writing. A lot of the experiences of living in the UK can feel alienating (even though we were both born here). At the same time experiences of racism continue to not be believed and so potentially become other people’s (white people’s) fictions. Black Holes aims to readdress all of these imbalances in the most ambitious way possible by retelling the origin story of the universe and metaphorically filling in the gaps of black history – with a big dose of sci-fi twists.
SC: Black Holes tells the history of the universe from the beginning through the present to the end. It’s a collage of epic and fantastical tall tales, real and everyday experiences of racism and a dash of actual science. It’s an exploration of specific identities and asks the question, “whose universal is the universal?”
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
AH: Afrofuturism as a movement has been an influence in both the writing and the sonic world of the piece (composed by Xana). We started making the work in 2016 when Afrofuturism was only just seeing a revival in this country and becoming a larger part of mainstream culture. We wanted to contribute to this by using the potential for dance to express our identities as multiple and situate choreography with a poetic, Afrofuturist landscape.
We are also critical of afrofuturism- or hold our allegiance to it lightly as with any labelling or ‘ism’. The ways in which white supremacist capitalist patriarchy marginalises those whose lived experiences are different, cannot be put in a spaceship completely. I guess I see Afrofuturism as a useful tool for for momentarily escaping and offering an alternative, but I think there certainly is tension within Black Holes between the kind of dystopias faced by people of colour as well as optimism whenever we do find sites where we have more agency; like in performance and creativity.
SC: The piece grew out of our mutual interest in Afrofuturism. That is, science fiction that deals with the black experience(s). From that tradition we were influenced by writers like Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler and the work of musicians like Sun Ra and George Clinton. We wondered what Afrofuturism might look like in dance and what a UK based spin on it would do. I think in some ways we’ve tried to subvert some of the expectations around the colourful, decadent aesthetic often associated with Afrofuturism.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, having been before are there any tips or musts you would offer to first-time performers?
AH: Find a supportive group to hang out with, eat well, enjoy the shows and meeting all kinds of audiences.
SC: There are so many shows I want to see and people I want to hang out with. I’m going to have to pace myself!
TF: Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh?
AH: I always let the fringe lead me once I’m there so I haven’t made any plans to see particular works. I’ll be checking out Fringe of Colour’s database though to see some of those works.
SC: I haven’t been for ages. I’m going to prioritise seeing work by artists of colour this year.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Black Holes?
AH: Next year I will be working on a slow burn project called Words Collect In My Mouth; All Is Fire And Flood, which will see me researching through writing, mentoring, resotirative justice models and of course movement, how individuals and communities can make their way back to intimacy after violence such as misogyny, sexual violence and institutional racism.
SC: Beyond Black Holes sounds like the name of a new show! I’ve recently been doing some research around black Horror – something around facing fears, letting the ghosts do the talking and exposing the hidden demons of slavery and colonialism that lurk around every corner.
You can see Black Holes at ZOO Southside until 25th August at 14:20. For tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/