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Dada Masilo's Giselle: A Decolonial Love Story

This article presents a polycentric Africanist reading of Dada Masilo's Giselle, which debuted in South Africa in 2017. Although ballet was used as a tool of colonization in South Africa, establishing cultural and aesthetic norms from a European paradigm, while undermining Indigenous arts and excluding non-white artists, I argue that Dada Masilo's choreographic choices employ the narrative of Giselle to decolonize through ballet. Masilo's choreography indigenizes the ballet, transforming local and global practices through an Indigenous lens. Dada Masilo's Giselle embodies African philosophies such as ancestorism, as well as gender fluidity and complementarity. It mobilizes techniques such as signifyin(g), comedic resistance, code-switching, battling, shouting, and critically reappropriating Tswana and diasporic movements in order to convey a distinctly South African version of the European ballet. This work transcends the romantic love of Giselle in order to convey a decolonial love by centering South African ways of knowing and being in the world.

To what extent does the foreign curation of African contemporary dance rehearse colonialist rhetoric that Africa is inherently different than the rest of the world and Africa is to be saved? Is there a better way to curate? In this essay I shed light on a complex issue comprised of three primary dynamics of the white gaze that factor into foreign curation of African contemporary dance works. First, there is the expectation of essential difference that emerges when artists are placed on programmes specifically for African choreographers, whilst the rest of the invitees are blended in another programme. Then, there is the unspoken expectation that the artist translate or transform the work to suit a European audience, and lastly, an unwillingness to honour the vast and distinct differences in aesthetics amongst African choreographers and to hire them accordingly.


This essay examines Mamela Nyamza’s choreography and performance of Black Privilege at the South African National Arts Festival of 2018 in the wake of the #RhodesMustFall decolonial movement.  I use Mishuauna Goeman’s theory of (re)mapping to explain how Nyamza carves a space for the recognition of both opulence and objectification simultaneously. Black Privilege exudes power through subtle yet potent poses and movements, re-membering the privilege and burden of Black womanhood as a spectacular non-spectacle. 

 Drawing on Frantz Fanon’s description of the somatic experience of Black consciousness and bell hooks’ critical gaze theory, the author develops the notion of a somatics of Blackness which recognizes the body as a site of both somatic and political identity formation. Utilizing Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s decolonial methodologies and Walter Mignolo’s theory of decolonial aesthesis, this work suggests how African choreographers decolonize the mind/body in performance by expressing African aesthetic criteria through post-colonial somatic engagement.


By rejecting formalism and product-focused art, Latin American performance art activated West African theories which embody serious play as a vehicle for social change. In this chapter the author considers events from 1965 through 1992 that use body-based artwork and/or exhibitions that directly engage spectators. The author places diverse works in conversation with one another to demonstrate how games and trickery shift social consciousness by requiring social participation thereby engendering collective autonomy. Emphasizing experimentation and somatic awareness to expand the definition of art, these artists rejected the superficial valuation of art objects and began to democratize the aesthetic experience.

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