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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Blinded by the sun
Animated, Spring 2001. In 1994, Tamara McLorg left Scotland and her role as artistic director of Dundee Rep Dance Company to join the academic world of Middlesex University. Hesitant as to what the future held, her apprehension has proven unfounded. Seizing such an opportunity has opened many new doors for her both creatively and theoretically. One of which led to Ethiopia and her subsequent appointment as the UK chair of Gemini Action International. Here she gives a poignant account of her recent journeys

As I leave the grey, drizzly clouds of London I recall my first visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, two years previously - my trepidation at what I may discover, how I would handle the task that lay before me - working as Adugna Dance Theatre's first guest choreographer with founder and artistic director, Royston Maldoom.

I had been issued with concise instructions. Firstly, make a work to Bob Marley, secondly, include contact and lift work - especially women lifting men - to encourage empowerment. And on arrival, when you get out of the airport whatever you do, do not cross the road. Someone will be waiting to meet you. But how would they know what I look like? 'Don't worry, there won't be many white, single females. Someone will catch your eye!' I felt nervous - more so than I normally do when going to make a new work.

Blinded by the sun, feeling its warmth envelop my body I look across the 'road'. Being short sighted I try, through blurry vision, to 'catch somebody's eye'. Twenty minutes later, conspicuously white and alone, I begin to worry. I have no telephone numbers, address, nothing ... Forty minutes later I begin to adapt to Ethiopian time and wait patiently. Waiting and patience are definite virtues in Ethiopia! Eventually I am found.

The drive to Cassainges, the compound where Adugna rehearse confirms that I am part of a very different culture. Throngs of people stroll along the road, donkeys, sheep, goats, children shoe shining, an array of vibrant colours from the most beautiful flowers, women clutching children begging, ramshackle buildings pieced together with all sorts of oddments, chaos ... not to mention the driving. The compound not only houses Adugna but also a medical centre, a nursery, and two containers which act as classrooms. The rehearsal studio is an old garage 15 by eight meters with a concrete floor and corrugated roof. Adugna (alongside GEM TV, a video and film training project coordinated by Andrew Coggins, who conceived the original Street Symphony project), is now under the auspices of the Ethiopian Gemini Trust - an organisation developed by Dr Carmela Abate to support women and families with multiple births.

The dancers greet me with a small bunch of red flowers. Rehearsals commence. Working with a translator everything takes longer. The altitude affects me, I am breathless, giddy, my heart pounds. I clutch the walls trying to regain composure. I ask for a chair, they bring me one from the kindergarten. My aching thighs, the result of trying to rehearse 'reggae' are worked further as I squat precariously on the minute chair. The company is a joy to teach - remembering every correction from the previous day, practising during their breaks and embracing ideas with enthusiasm. The heat from the corrugated roof is stifling; my feet are rough and cut from the cement floor. As there are no doors the tiny tots from the nursery sneak into the studio, following me or wanting to be hugged and kissed. There is a constant audience from the compound standing, watching.

Night-time - cockroaches, mosquitoes, power cuts, water shortages, dogs howl relentlessly, the day's experiences flash past. Eventually I sleep. On waking, I well with tears, feeling that I have been touched deeply, profoundly by the experience but cannot place what it is. And so, I continue trying to create a piece to Bob Marley. The movement becomes a strange mixture of reggae, contemporary and traditional Ethiopian dance. We create a hybrid, our own particular style, of which I have become quite fond.

A year later, I make a second visit to devise another piece. This time I have the freedom to create whatever I wish with the proviso that it will extend the dancers technically as well as challenge the audience. This time we combat the rainy season. It is cold and wet. Massive downpours halt rehearsals; water leaks through the roof, flooding the entrance. The damp and cold seep through our feet into our bodies. Our voices cannot be heard over the battering rain. But the making process continues. The dancers have grown technically and creatively. They work with a maturity surpassing their years. Tara Herbert and I decide to combine material that she develops in her classical class with material I create.

Making work and the reasons for creating has greatly changed for me over the years. Having choreographed some 100 pieces, I am no longer interested in the final result as much as the process - the sharing, exploration and collaboration of ideas and movement. For me, the wonder and the magic occur within these parameters. These are the moments that I carry with me, moments, which enrich my life, and hopefully others too.

I often walk into a studio without precise ideas, or, for that matter, thoughts of the outcome. I start with movement. The dancers add their creative material, which they explore through workshops. Gradually these develop through 'play'. I then explore an array of movement structures as I piece together the unfolding jigsaw. This becomes the most intriguing time involving my mental facilities as I try to discover the heart of the piece and to link it with the musical score. I thrive on thinking on the 'hoof'. At each moment, I have many paths I can choose to follow. Maybe I will not make the right decision but this becomes the adventure. Creating any piece reminds me of nurturing a child. A child that will grow to be its own independent person, deciding which way he or she wishes to travel irrespective of what my desires or aspirations are. I may try to guide, push, cajole, but in the final analysis a piece has its own life. There is always a moment when I can feel it following its independent journey and I follow with trepidation and curiosity. What will the result be? I love working in unknown territory, through the creative chaos, although some find the processes I employ trying I am sure.

In between rehearsals, I gain an insight into the work of The Ethiopian Gemini Trust. I have been asked to be the chair for Gemini Action International in the UK. It is imperative to have a sound knowledge of the organisation. I observe in admiration the work that is carried out by the Trust, which now supports over 1100 needy households. The families assisted, many of whom are parents and siblings of the Adugna dancers, are poorer than most of us can imagine. Many eat only one meal a day, three out of four have no access to water within their compounds, and over one third have no sanitation facilities. Most live in squalid overcrowded shacks, often ten to a room and six to a bed. I make some 'home visits'. I am left in an emotional turmoil.

Two years on, I travel again to Ethiopia with Pete Ayres, lighting designer. We are nonchalant as we go through customs and step into the glowing sun. Leaving the airport, I am excited. It will be my first opportunity to watch Adugna performing in their hometown and to see the work that they have created for 130 other young people living or working on the streets. No pressures, I have just to rehearse my piece. Maybe this time I will get the opportunity to see more of Addis Ababa.

Pete and I are driven straight from the airport to where the rehearsals are taking place. We walk into a hive of activity. Dancers, musicians, a film crew, everyone working to their maximum. Composer, Barry Ganberg, rushes past wide-eyed, Mags Byrne, assistant director of Adugna, organises all and sundry, from food (the children who take part in the performance are fed), to transport, to handing out tickets to thousands of street children. She looks decidedly weary. Royston is directing - he has lost his voice - but is immensely proud of the work Adugna has created. Perching on a seat, I am relieved that I am not involved.

Two days later, I teach 130 participants and rehearse Adugna. Royston and I rush to the Sheraton Hotel for technicals - Adugna have been asked to perform at the African Development Forum Concert of Artistes Against HIV/AIDS which is to be televised world-wide. (Adugna are the only Ethiopian company to be invited). I run the technical /dress rehearsals in the 2,000 seater amphitheatre; by day four, I lose my voice ... some 5,000 street children watch the performances, absorbed and enthralled. The theatre is fumigated as the children leave; the young participants insist we share their food. I wash the dance floor. Back to the Sheraton. And oh yes! A quick rehearsal of my piece - my faith in Pete's lighting helps it along. Barry comes up with sound to support the silent sections, which are too much of a challenge for the audience!

Technical limitations abound - sound problems, lighting problems, the dance floor lay on carpet, fine grey dust attacking our throats. And as for health and safety ... We are overcome with hysterical giggles when we realise there is no form of communication from the lighting box to back stage to the musicians. We solve the problem using a cigarette lighter! I stand in the lighting box and watch with pride as these young people excel themselves. Their performances are outstanding. They have an integrity and honesty that is touching. They are beautiful, sensuous, ooze energy and they dance with soul.

The creative process over, the work for Adugna will carry on in England where Mags, Royston and I will look at modules and course outlines and meet with Middlesex University in the hope that the course can be accredited. It will be the first of its kind, a Dance Development Programme specifically designed for the Third World.

Travelling to remote areas has aroused in me an interest in intercultural work and enabled an exchange of knowledge, both artistically and socially. What never ceases to amaze me is how quickly a rapport is achieved regardless of language and cultural differences. Often the working and living conditions are difficult. Great patience is required and a sense of humour imperative. What I gain far outweighs any negative aspects. And I yearn to continue working in this way - perhaps in Mongolia?

Our last day, exhausted, we travel to Lake Longano to recuperate. The journey of four hours gives us another flavour of Ethiopia. I wake at 5.30am to watch the dawn rise yawning across the lake. I think of Adugna, of 18 young people who have found a dignity that is spreading to other street children and above all, a voice, their own voice. I recall some of the words spoken by H E Kofi Annan on his visit to The Ethiopian Gemini Trust last December:... I think what you have done here should be an inspiration for civil societies around the world and I hope it will be replicated around Africa.'(1) And I ... I am so grateful to have had a tiny part of that experience.

Adugna Dance Theatre comprises 18 young dancers, 12 male and six females, who were selected from the project, Street Symphony, which started to give street children 'a voice', and through the vision of some extraordinary people are now in their final year of dance training. The training consists of performance related work as well as community involvement.

Tamara McLorg, choreographer , senior lecturer, Middlesex University and chair, Gemini Action International. Email t.mclorg@mdx.ac.uk

Reference
1.Annan, H.E., Kofi, Gemini Trust Headquarters, Ethiopia, December 2000

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001