Nearly two weeks have passed since I returned from a 10 day journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the Crossing Boundaries Festival & Conference with members of the Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT). The festival and conference were organized by the Ethiopian Theatre Professionals Association, Addis Ababa University College of Performing & Visual Arts, and Sundance Institute East Africa Theater Program Alumni. This is my travelogue.
8am, Monday, September 21, Frankfurt: On layover here via Chicago, en route to Jeddah and Addis Ababa – 12 more hours. We left Minneapolis-St. Paul at 11:20am, Sunday. ADT received the invitation to Crossing Boundaries nearly two years ago. Just three weeks ago, we learned that the U.S. State Department would sponsor our journey.
|Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from Mount Entoto • James Davies|
Two days ago, Glenn, a dance administrator friend in San Francisco, posted video of a sermon by an Episcopal priest at Grace Cathedral who related the journey of his first sojourn at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.
My life with dance these past 35 years has combined politics, the spiritual, commerce, and creative expression. I view dancers and choreographers as priests and priestesses, working in their temples to touch on aspects of the sacred and the divine.
Each of the four dance companies I have managed has been progressively like the peeling of a flower, fruit, or vegetable to get at the essence of the universe's energy and truth. This journey to Ethiopia is part of the peeling, as we bring our performance offering of "Roktim: Nurture Incarnadine" and prepare to immerse in the works of other artists from other realms.
|U.S. Ambassador Patricia Haslach and members of Ananya Dance Theatre, |
Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 24, 2015 • U.S. Embassy Ethiopia
We will be at the American embassy tomorrow morning, meeting with women from the Yellow Movement group, an initiative by women at Addis Ababa University (AAU) to speak up for women’s and girls’ rights. It was started two and half years ago to campaign for better protection of women from gender-based violence. In the afternoon, we will be with dancers and others at AAU.
Festival organizers tell us there will be an audience of 1,200 for Friday's "Roktim" performance at the Ethiopian National Theatre. With that many people, we cannot present the first act of “Roktim” outside the theater, or in its lobby, as we did at the world premiere at The O'Shaughnessy just three days ago. We will have to “take it inside” the theater where acts two through four will be staged more traditionally.
These were the first air flights ever for one member of our traveling party, a dancer who is now a seasoned traveler. At breakfast in the Frankfurt airport this morning, an international business traveler joined our group for conversation; before leaving, he paid for everyone's breakfast, invited the company to perform in Toronto, and donated a 500 Euro note to our coffers!
|James Davies & Gary Peterson with "Lucy"|
Ethiopian National Museum, September 26, 2015 • Ayu Shashe
At the U.S. Embassy yesterday, we engaged in three hours of conversation and movement dialogue with 14 women, all law students from AAU. These 14 are part of a core group of 20-30 members of the Yellow Movement, AAU students who meet weekly and hold weekly public activities on campus to raise awareness of, and to change attitudes and behaviors that result in violence against women. Like artists and others who labor in the unsung shadows, they often find little external support for their efforts, and some of our conversation focused on the value and power of individual efforts to change the world.
A year ago, ADT unveiled its new website after a year of planning and development. The value and power of that effort was on display as we called up text, photos, and videos over the Internet to facilitate our discussion. Many constraints on women's roles in the world are rooted in issues related to sexuality, and candid conversation covered those, including the need to lift one's internal constraints.
|Learned Dees, Cultural Affairs Officer,|
U.S. Embassy, and Gary Peterson
Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa • James Davies
The embassy employs 1,200 people. Photos are not permitted of the exterior or interior, and all visitors’ electronics must be checked at the first of several security checkpoints in the compound.
Tuesday afternoon, we proceeded to 2-1/2 hours of meet-up with representatives of Ethiopian dance ensembles, including the Destino Dance Company, established to help underprivileged young people develop their potential through dance. After rounds of verbal introductions and movement sharing, each group learned two movement phrases of the other and put them together into a four-minute dance.
|Ananya Dance Theatre at Crossing Boundaries opening ceremonies|
National Theatre, Addis Ababa, September 24, 2015 • Crossing Boundaries Ethiopia
Jet lag began to hit as evening arrived, and we took crash time before meeting to discuss how we would master today the logistics of the two spaces where we will perform: the embassy's reception for the local and international community, and the keynote performance at Crossing Boundaries Festival. Dancers crowded into and were rehearsing, standing "in place," in one of our hotel rooms at 10pm last night.
This morning, we will meet with graduate students in theater at AAU, followed by visits to take the measure of the two performance sites. Later in the afternoon, Ananya Chatterjea, ADT’s artistic director, will return to the American embassy for an hour-long interactive interview on Facebook.
Addis Ababa is home to about 4.5 million of the country's 96 million people. In altitude, it is third highest capital city in the world at ~7,500 feet. The city is built in a mountainous valley. Construction activity is everywhere. Today is a Muslim holiday, but the country is predominantly orthodox Christian. In fact, for Christian religious reasons, the national calendar was changed recently and the current year is 2008. About 2% of the population attends college. I have been told that college is free.
|Lobby of Ethiopian National Theatre, Addis Ababa|
Earlier in the day, Wednesday, we conducted a workshop with faculty and students from the graduate theater program at AAU’s Cultural Arts Center, located on the grounds of one of Selassie's former palaces, which he donated to the university. Also on the grounds is the J. F. Kennedy Memorial Library for which Robert Kennedy laid the corner stone and Rose Kennedy attended the opening.
|Haile Selassie's throne at|
Ethiopian National Theatre
Access to university education is by national exam. University education is free. In addition, the government provides ~$16,000 to each student over the course of four years. This must be repaid after graduation. Amharic is Ethiopia's main language. English is used mainly at university levels. The government is encouraging more use of English at elementary school levels.
Wednesday afternoon, we visited the Hilton Hotel for a spacing rehearsal and sound check in the ballroom where we will perform Thursday evening at a U.S. Embassy reception.
Later, we got in 45 minutes of street market shopping while Chatterjea and dancer Hui Wilcox answered questions with local residents on Facebook.
Tomorrow (this) morning starts early. The van arrives at 8:30 to take us to our rehearsal at the National Theater for Friday evening's performance. The dancers rehearsed in our hotel ballroom until 11pm tonight.
|Post-performance joy at Totot Traditional Restaurant|
Addis Ababa, September 25, 2015 • Andrea Reynolds
Late Thursday afternoon, ADT performed at a reception for alumni of educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and Ethiopia, at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa. The reception was hosted by the U.S. Embassy as part of a month-long series of activities celebrating 75 years of U.S.-Ethiopia educational and cultural exchanges.
|James Davies and Gary Peterson|
Totot Traditional Restaurant, Addis Ababa
Learned Dees, a native of Burnsville, Minnesota, and the embassy’s Cultural Affairs Officer, introduced ADT and its 15-minute performance.
The performance included a sung poem linking the Mississippi and Nile rivers, and dancers circulating throughout the ballroom inviting attendees to “Dance with us!” Many, including Ambassador Haslach, did so.
Reception attendees included Mulatu Astatke, the “godfather of Ethiopian jazz.”
Following the reception, Chatterjea and the company appeared on stage at the opening ceremonies of the Crossing Boundaries Festival & Conference, held at the Ethiopian National Theatre.
|Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia • James Davies|
Amin Abdulkadir, Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture & Tourism, attended the performance and hosted all festival performers and their traveling parties afterward at a dinner at the Totot Traditional Restaurant. Artists from 11 countries vied to outdo each other in an extended dance to live music on the restaurant’s stage.
|Meskel Square (in one direction), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 27, 2015 • James Davies|
Earlier today, the three of us attended services at St. Matthew's Anglican Church on Queen Elizabeth Street. The sermon was the most clarifying I have ever heard about the Biblical book of Revelation. During church coffee hour, an ex-pat from South Africa, who has lived here for 12 years, told us he has never heard of major street crime occurring here, just the routine of pick pocketing in crowded, close quarters. That jives with a week's worth of observations: no firearms, even among most of the military and police units. Amazingly, we also see no road rage among a pedestrian and vehicular population that shares the streets in a seemingly haphazard fashion. Collectively, they have it worked out. I am not sure we Americans know how to learn from them about working some of these things out.
|Members of Ananya Dance Theatre at|
Church of Saint Elias, Addis Ababa
September 28, 2015 • Gary Peterson
An atmosphere of security pervades much of the city. The routine entering of any hotel, including one's own, requires the x-raying of all bags and passage through metal detectors.
On Saturday, the company attended conference plenary sessions at the Goethe Institute on the AAU campus. Chatterjea participated in a roundtable discussion, “Movement, Ideas and Bodies,” with Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, Ph.D., Director of AAU’s Gebre Kristos Desta Center, and Mshaï Mwangola, Ph.D., Research and Communications Officer, The African Peacebuilding Network Hub (APN-Hub).
While my colleagues were so occupied, Shashe and his friend Hanuk accompanied Davies and me up Mount Entoto. We visited six churches (including the Church of Saint Raquel and Church of Saint Elias), the palace of Menelik II, the Ethiopian National Museum (where one exits the car for pat down before driving onto the grounds and, where we visited the 3.5 million year old remains of Lucy), and Holy Trinity Cathedral, where we prayed at the tomb of Haile Selassie. We had lunch at the Lucy Restaurant.
|Members of Ananya Dance Theatre, Yellow Movement, and staff of ASWAD,|
a shelter for women and children, Addis Ababa, September 28, 2015 • Blen Sahilu
Sunday brought a mix of conference and non-conference events. Three of our party left for the airport this evening to return home. The remaining 10 of us leave Monday evening, after the dancers travel up the mountain to sight-see, and after members of the Yellow Movement take the company to visit the women and girls of ASWAD, a shelter for women and child survivors of gender based violence.
|Hanuk and Ayu Shashe, National Museum|
Addis Ababa, September 26, 2015 • James Davies
I love it here and I feel sad to leave.
We did accomplish what we came to do: represent the United States at an international arts festival and conference with the new faces of our state and country. We succeeded extremely well and have forged indelible memories, embryonic relationships, and new opportunities for the future.