Blanche Neige: Live in Kinshasa
In the summer of 2009, I performed as a dancer with a popular musical band in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of my research in examining how lived experiences in an urban environment are communicated through movement. I studied the ways in which female concert dancers are viewed and treated by society at large, and how they contribute to and reflect the social imagination. This project is a collage of videos filmed of several performances and practice sessions in Kinshasa.
Following Maya Deren, and Katherine Dunham, I do not perceive art as radically separate from anthropological research. I see my own fieldwork as a performance: first, in the literal sense, in that I perform dance choreography (in character as Blanche Neige, or Snow White, a name given to me by the band); second, in the sense that my participation and desire to be accepted by the rest of the Congolese dancers demands that I manage impressions (Goffman 1979); third, in that I become an actor in the unfolding social drama, sharing in and affecting the temporal present experience; and fourth, by posting my videos on YouTube, I am performing for a virtual audience. The concept of mimesis can be extended to methods in both the field and studio. Given that humans are inclined to produce similarities through mimicry, the artist (in this case, the dancer), represents urban realities, by imitating objects, people, or animals in efforts to experience alterity. Through mimesis, though influences are absorbed, the individual nevertheless can retain his/her own identity without having to become whatever it is being imitated. In this way, dance as a participant-observation method has an ecstatic quality both in its inherent transcendence of the subject-boundaries, and in its performative aspects (Fabian 1985; Hastrup 1992).
Lesley N. Braun is a PhD candidate at Université de Montréal in Anthropology. Her research focuses on the ways in which dance in its embodied and symbolic forms, participates in the constitution of an urban experience. As a dancer, she has performed with various groups and companies in Montreal. Most recently, she explored the dance of female concert dancers, and shegue (streetkids) in Kinshasa, Congo. In addition to Congolese Ndombolo, she studies and dances Jamaican Dancehall, American urban dance. She has recently received grants and awards from the Canadian Humanities and Social Science Research Council and Concordia University where she completed an MA in the Special Individual Program (SIP) which combined anthropology, dance, and communications.