Jay Pather, a recent Major Award winner at the Brett Kebble Art Awards for his entry Kitchen, has been making performance work for non-traditional spaces, such as hotel bedrooms, restaurants, escalators, art galleries and shopping malls for the past couple of years. Although he is established and respected in the South African contemporary dance world as an academic, choreographer and director, Pather entered the mainstream visual art world relatively recently.
Collaboration is the key to Pather's oeuvre - through the development of script and performance frameworks with performers, or working closely with video, sound and installation artists, mall managers and curators to realise often ambitious projects. Traditional and classical forms, and how contemporary life dissects and reinterprets these forms are a major point of interest.
Often describing South African life as uniquely and truly postmodern, Pather sees the intersection and confluence of almost unimaginable possibilities of human interaction (for example a rural black matriarch meets surfer-skateboard-boy) as a source for his art. Using choreographic conventions to disrupt and subvert these 'intimate' encounters, his work brings to the foreground slippery notions such as nationhood, love and violence.
Pather engages multimedia to create a sophisticated layering of the postmodern experience. His work offers different and multiple points of entry, creating a dreamlike state that invites the viewer in, allowing 'sense' to be made however he or she needs. Using a semblance of narrative, that is then eschewed and subverted, also provides access points to a non-theatre/gallery-going audience. However, once this seduction is accomplished, the proverbial rug is pulled, disrupting expected, logical conclusions.
The built environment and urban politics is another point of reference, and Pather compiled a substantial body of work that interrogates and celebrates architecture and 'genus loci', the intangible qualities (or spirit) of 'place'. The site-specific nature of his work also developed from an interest in finding an audience that might not have encountered contemporary performance before.
He places work in populated spaces, creating a synergy between its architectural form, the movement of pedestrians and the patterns and habits of its inhabitants. These contribute equally to the content and form of the work. The final product is shown in full-scale 'theatre' proportions, with stage sound, lighting and costume.
Moving into gallery and museum spaces was prompted by the limitations of the black box, and coincidentally at a time when traditional display institutions were becoming more eager to invite 'breathing' art into their hallowed spaces.
'I am as interested in performance as I am in psychology and the manifestations of the psyche on the human body and one's physical environment. I cut my teeth making work that emerged from the personal made political, and though I have tried working purely with form for the sake of its own vitality, in both a visual sense and within the moving body, I always seem to creep back to locating why things are and not just that they are.
Mixed media, the visual, aural and the kinetic give me a broad canvas to explore the complexity and sophistication of consciousness, and ultimately it is the choices and the playing out of choice in the human consciousness that fascinate me. Live performance and video framed often by existing architecture give me frame and malleable material. Of late site-specific work has taken me out of traditional spaces, to explore new relationships with public spaces and architecture but now extended to an informal, unsuspecting audience who view the work from a range of angles and vantage points.'
'Jay really is the thinking person's director and in Home he touches raw nerves as we identify with these fragments of our own lives as they take place as we move from room to room, episode to episode. He says in the notes that he wants to find 'the miraculous and the extraordinary in the ordinary.' I love that. I know what he means. I want to do that too.' Andrew Verster
'In A South African Siddhartha, acclaimed choreographer Pather has taken South Africa's layered landscapes and mindscapes to create the superbly satisfying and insanely lyrical South African interior dance dialogue we've been waiting for. Pather slowly unfolds a distinctly South African narrative with sophistication and an unselfconscious interplay of dance forms from Zulu and Xhosa dance, kathak, bharatha natyam, oddissi, contemporary and classical ballet. It works beautifully. At times it is soft and calm, rational and dignified, comical and camp, balanced and harmonious then petulant and tortured. And yes, of course, even very sexy.' Suzy Bell, The Independent on Saturday
'The Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre's Republic: Performances of the Body Politic in ArtSpace flaunted the intellectual, conceptual and underpinnings of contemporary African dance. It also showcased Durban dance's choreographic diversity, with its legacy of development and artistic dynamism (which is inextricably linked to transforming the city of eThekwini)... Pather describes his role in this empowering exercise as an instigator. This visionary mentor incited a group of young KwaZulu-Natal artists to map, connect and distil the gritty sights, sounds and subliminal imagery of eThekwini into an intelligently edgy, emotionally raw, physically charged social portrait - conceptual manna from streetwise heaven.' Adrienne Sichel, 'Tonight, September 5, 2004
'Pather is to be commended for both the immaculate conception of Cityscapes and its brilliant execution. It is yet another example of the spirit of creative collaboration that makes Durban such an exciting place in which to live. I haven't seen a single work in any medium that tells me more about myself than Cityscapes. I haven't experienced another art piece that has a greater resonance with my experience of being human in this country.' Peter Machen, Artthrob
Currently the director of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, a full-time performance company with Ntombi Gasa, Eric Shabalala and Neliswa Rushualang, Pather is in the research phase of major projects for 2005. His contribution to the Brett Kebble Art Awards, Kitchen earned him a Major Award, and an installation, Hotel is currently on view at the Museum for African Art in New York, as part of the group exhibition, 'Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art'.
The past year has been particularly busy for Pather. It kicked off with a visit to Mumbai, India with 25 performers to create a large-scale performance for the official opening ceremony of the World Social Forum. He created a new work for the ITS Festival while teaching on a residency at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, and traveled with Siwela Sonke to open the Festival of Dhow Countries in Zanzibar. This was followed by his participation in 'Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art' where he presented Hotel at the Museum for African Art and From Before, an epic work with four South African and 21 New York based performers on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Kitchen, was originally part of a larger work Home, commissioned by the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2003. Taking place in various 'rooms' in a home, the work is installed in a large space, and includes collaborations with artists such as Jo Ractliffe, Greg Streak, Milijana Babic, Thando Mama and Angela Buckland. The audience moves with performers from 'room' to 'room', through an 'exploded' or deconstructed house. Home was subsequently installed at the Durban Art Gallery.
Earlier in 2004 Pather directed Republic: Performing the Body Politic, a collaborative laboratory with young video, sound and performance artists which culminated in public performances at ArtSpace Durban and in Albany Grove in the Durban CBD. The work was commissioned by the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival and produced by Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre.
The company also opened the 2003 FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg with a series of site-specific works (which premiered in Durban during 2002) in the city of Johannesburg, titled Cityscapes. Performance sites included the Carlton Centre, the Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, Sandton Square and The Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg. Prominent video artists were invited to interpret and document these performances, and the production culminated in performance and video installations in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Participating artists included Usha Seejarim, Jo Ractliffe and Theresa Collins.
In Durban, Cityscapes took place during 2002 in the Albany Hotel, 320 West Street, the Workshop shopping centre, Musgrave Mall and the Durban North Beach. Participating visual artists included Thando Mama, Virginia MacKenny, Greg Streak and Storm Janse van Rensburg. The installation performances took place in the Durban Art Gallery.
For the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival in 2002, Pather presented State of Grace, a site-specific work made for the NSA Gallery, occupying the entire complex, combining intimate performance and the spectacular with the interiors and exteriors of the building.
In 1999 Pather conceived a seminal work, A South African Siddhartha, based on the novel by Herman Hesse. For its premier at the National Arts Festival, Pather worked with prominent artists from India (Viabahv Joshi and Jayathi Bhatia) and performers from Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre. On an epic scale, the work 'serves as a metaphor for South Africa's own evolution from the strictures and excesses of apartheid towards enlightenment'.
Pather was brought in from Cape Town to serve as Artistic Director of Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre in 1996, then a resident contemporary dance company with the Playhouse Company in Durban. Large-scale and ill-advised restructuring processes saw the entire company and Pather retrenched early in 1999. Keeping the company together with no resources and functioning from corporate to corporate performance, Pather and company still managed to produce an uncompromising body of work, building a considered repertoire.
Works created during this period included High Art and Forked Tongues, commissioned by the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival, Thathamachance commissioned by Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg and Laws of Recall which was also presented at the Dans en Creations/Sanga 2 Festival in Madagascar when Pather was selected as one of 10 African choreographers to present work.
In 2000 Pather joined the Durban Institute of Technology Drama Department as a senior lecturer, a position from which he resigned in June 2003, to finally move Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre into a permanent home and studio in Albany Grove in the Durban CBD.
Prior to moving to Durban, Pather lived in Cape Town, where he was Resident Choreographer for Jazzart Dance Theatre and coordinated the Movement Courses for UCT Drama and Opera Schools. During this period he performed in several of Jazzart's productions but also did solo performances, notably in Raw Dog Night and Stories I could tell, which was commissioned for both the Artrage Festival in Australia and the Out of Africa Festival in Munich. He taught at the University of Zululand after completing his Masters Degree as a Fullbright Scholar at New York University in Performance Studies. Prior to his he completed two Honours degrees at the University of Durban Westville.
Pather has worked as a performer, director, choreographer, academic and critic. He has also participated in numerous public processes such as the ACTAG report and served on the board of the Arts and Culture Trust, and the National Advisory board.
Pather will present The beautiful ones must be born, which was commissioned for the 2005 FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg. Negotiations are currently underway to present this work in the Drill Hall in the Johannesburg CBD.
Pather was born in Durban on March 5, 1959. He lived and worked in New York, Zululand and Cape Town and has been living and working in Durban since.
ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
1984, MA (Theatre and Dance) Thesis Topic: Multi-media Performance Models for South Africa, School of Education and Arts Professions, New York University
SELECTED PRODUCTIONS - DIRECTION AND CHOREOGRAPHY
1982 Dance in Three Parts, University of Durban-Westville, Durban
1983 Hector Peterson, New York University, New York
Twice Fallen, Black women in apartheid South Africa, Amandla Awethu Dance Theatre, New York
1985 Duel in Black and White, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town
1986 Trial of Dedan Kimathi, University of Zululand
1988 The Tempest, Zululand
The Island (Kani, Ntshona, Fugard), Zululand
1989 Side by Side Masizizanei Durban
1990: Amandla Cultural Ensemble Luanda, Angola
Trials of Brother Jero", (Soyinka), Community Arts Project, Cape Town
Nightmare into Light, New Africa Theatre Project, Cape Town
1991 Rite of Spring (Stravinsky), University of Cape Town
Sometime Summer, Action Workshop, Cape Town
1992 Unclenching the Fist, CAPAB, National Festival of the Arts, Nico Malan, Cape Town
Nadaraja, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town
1993 River Dance Theatre, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town
Unclenching the Fist II, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town
The Bacchae Dance Theatre, Hidding Hall, Cape Town
1994 River II, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
Wet and Other Works, Various Venues, Cape Town
1995: Six Solos In Search Of A Story, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town
1996 Gangsta, Various Venues, Durban
Ahimsa/Ubuntu, Sri Lanka, Mumbaai, Delhi, Ahmedebad and Madras
1997 Unclenching the Fist, The Playhouse Company Durban
New Moves National Arts Festival (Main), Grahamstown
Shifting Spaces Tilting Time, Playhouse Company, Durban and Dance Umbrella, Johannesburg
Unclenching the Fist, Women's Arts Festival Playhouse Company, Durban
Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre Season, Interface Theatre and Dance Festival, London
1999 Miracle, Playhouse Company, Durban
A South African Siddhartha, Twenty Fifth National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
Opening Ceremony, Commonwealth Heads of State Conference, ICC Durban
A Common Wealth of Dance, Playhouse Company, Durban
2000 Closing Ceremony XIII International AIDS Conference, ICC Durban
Laws of Recall, Jomba Contemporary Dance Festival, Durban
2001 Thathamachance (commissioned by FNB Dance Umbrella), Johannesburg
Laws of Recall, (commissioned by French organisation, AFAA), Madagascar
2002 Cityscapes, 320 West Street, Workshop, Musgrave Centre, Albany Hotel North Beach Pier, Durban
A State of Grace, NSA Gallery, Durban
2003 CityScapes Johannesburg, Oriental Plaza, Carlton Centre, Devonshire Hotel, Sandton Square, Johannesburg Art Gallery, commissioned by FNB Dance Umbrella, Johannesburg
Home, commissioned by National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
2004 Opening Ceremony, World Social Forum, Mumbai, India
Don't Play with your Food, ITS Festival, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Festival of Dhow Countries, Stonetown, Zanzibar
Republic, ArtSpace Durban, Alabany Grove, Durban
'Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art', Museum for African Art and Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York