Conversation with dance instructor Joel G Rose | 19 August 2020
‘I believe that the future of dance will be led by technology’
Joel G Rose is an instructor at the National Conservatoire of Performing Arts within the department of culture. He is currently undertaking a government sponsored Masters scholarship in Innovation Management at Central St Martin’s University in London, UK. He chose to focus the research for his masters within the dance context.
However, the contextualisation of his research within dance does not limit his practice as an Innovation Manager to that particular landscape. He explains that he can function as an Innovation Manager within any sector – i.e within the Political, Environmental, Social, Technological, Economic and Legal Sectors. Rose shares his views on life, entertainment and the performing arts industry as well as how he is managing during this Covid-19 pandemic.
How did your interest to pursue such a course start and what do you intend to achieve through your studies?
Joel: My interest to pursue the course stems from my personal professional experiences. I got to an instance in my career where I developed a heightened sensibility to the organisational structure, the office culture and the ethics of care in the environment I was functioning in. I recognised the limitations within that situation and I decided to action them as opportunities for change. One of the initial steps in that regard was to research and action opportunities to educate myself about innovative ways to approach, manage and resolve these concerns. Consequently, this master equips me with the added skill set needed to pursue my aspirations for change.
Do you think there is a gap in knowledge about dance as a genre of art locally and how can this be addressed/improved?
Joel: There has been significant progress pertaining to the awareness and presence of dance on the local arts scene. However, one needs to question the meaning of that presence. For example, how and where does one define and locate oneself within the practice? What stories are the local dancers telling? How is the art form and its practitioners impacting on their communities and our country, both positively and negatively as well?
These questions necessitate reflection. Their answers will provide us with the insights we need to improve the discourse if that is what is needed.
Reflective action is a process in education. Education is the key.
What can we learn about our life, culture and times from studying dance?
Joel: Dance as any other art form communicates human stories. It relates stories from the past and allow for them to be located in the present. It is also a representation of the present while it communicates visions of the future. It is a medium that bridges distance. Dance activates communities in, through and beyond physical borders.
What types of dance do you practice and how have they evolved over the years?
Joel: I identify myself as a contemporary dance practitioner. My dance practice is a representation of our time. It is informed by my formal training in classical ballet, modern dance styles, commercial hip hop, jazz, African dance and contact improvisation, without excluding our local traditional and cultural dances.
Contemporary dance as a genre is a dynamic practice. The essence of it, as is that of the art of dance is that it remains in perpetual metamorphosis in, through and across times.
With that said, the most significant evolution in dance in the last couple of years has been led by the positioning of technology within the discussion of the artform. This has spiraled massive innovation. It has expanded the possibilities far beyond what was conceivable a decade ago.
What are some of the emerging research and opportunities in dance?
Joel: Dance is located at the crux of a billion ‘milieus’ (milieus being the environment where concepts (not necessarily relating) collide, to create opportunities). As endless are these milieus, so are the opportunities in dance.
For example, researchers now investigate dance as a practical framework to help in the regeneration of ethical values in broken communities, dance as a practical and somatic approach towards physical and mental well-being, the effects of micro socio political economic dynamics on a community as expressed through dance, etcetera.
Many artists are known to use their work to not only express themselves but also address some of the global concerns they are passionate about. How is dance being used on the global stage and locally to address the issues that plague society today?
Joel: To be honest the local dance community lacks intentional engagement with issues that plague society today. Not saying that there isn’t awareness or a sensibility that informs internal local dance community practices, rather that it is not overtly manifested on the public scene in the products that are visible to the mass.
Dance instigates activism. Activism causes effects. Policies, procedures, strategies, frameworks, standards, theories… all these things are affected by the effects of forces that act upon them. The international dance industry has a much more acute recognition of the power of dance as an innovative medium to tackle contemporary social issues.
What principles does one require to better get by in life?
Joel: I have adopted my guiding principles from Erica Dhawan. Partnership embraces the spirit of collaboration and trust. In a partnership sometimes one leads and sometimes one follows. No matter what role one assumes at whatever time, the partnership remains.
Adaptability relates to one’s openness to learn, to embrace challenges and to allow for the lessons to inform the capability with which you approach your practice.
Variation speaks about experimentation. To try out new ideas. Not to fear failure, but rather to learn through them.
Inquiry addresses reflective action. The questions one asks oneself about one’s practice and the way(s) one considers one’s answer for personal and professional growth.
Audience focuses on the people you serve through your practice and the impact you have on them.
These principles are as equally significant in my approach to life, to dance and to innovation management, as they reflect the never ending learning cycles that informs my existence.
It is no doubt that social media is an open box of potential. How can the performing arts and entertainment industry in Seychelles promote the use of technology to tap into opportunities as well as cater to their consumers?
Joel: One, if not the primary use of social media in the entertainment industry is to build presence. To have significant social media presence places a person, a company, an organisation, a brand in a very opportune location. The way they decide to leverage that presence (admittedly sometimes positively and in other instances negatively) can help to generate financial income. The availability of funds increases one’s possibility to deliver the quality of products in demand from contemporary audience. As one is able to meet consumers’ needs, one achieves higher more credible rating. This opens the door of opportunity ever so wider. It is a regenerative systemic process.
Many artists have tapped into this tool to continue impacting lives as well as earn a living during these times of Covid-19 pandemic. What innovative ways can the Seychellois dance artist use to not only distinguish themselves from the rest of the world but also relay messages of hope?
Joel: Seychellois artists need to be ever more attuned to the factors that drive global discourses. These are political, environmental, social, technological, economics and legal factors. They then need to understand the local discourse of these factors and then define our global positioning as informed by the local as well as an international perspective of these factors. This will give us edge. It will afford us heightened presence as we will be better able to function on international platforms – we will position better on the global scene as we will have a local voice, but that our rationale will be better located in the global discourse.
Even as I say this, I do recognise that a lot of local artists do function with that reasoning. Nevertheless, this is not necessarily evident in dance.
The Moutya is a traditional ceremony of the Creole people of Seychelles. It can be used to tell stories and bring awareness on social issues. It is said that the authentic Moutya is slowly dying, however, plans are underway to revive it through the Department of Culture. What are your thoughts on using traditional cultural activities to address social, economic, cultural and historical issues?
Joel: Traditionally the moutya allowed for the slaves’ community to manifest their antisystem stance in a language that the masters did not understand. Through the call and response format of the chants they sang about their sufferings, the hardships of the time, some sang about lost loves, they shared gossip; it became a kind of news forum. The essence of moutya is that it is a vocal and physical medium of expression of the people. With that in mind, indeed a project which allows for the people to use best traditional and cultural practices to express themselves, to bring awareness and to help address social, economic, political, legal, environmental issues is definitely viable.
This pandemic has affected most, if not all students globally. How are your studies coming along and how are you getting through the pandemic?
Joel: It has been a psychological and emotional challenge more than anything else. The pandemic has denied me of the holistic university experience I anticipated. However, I am holding on to my purpose and in doing so I appreciate the unpredicted lessons that this moment has taught me.
What kind of government guidance or assistance have you received during this coronavirus pandemic? And how has it helped you cope?
Joel: I have kept myself informed of the situation in Seychelles via local news networks available on digital platforms. Moreover, I have had to consider the situation here in London as well. All the decisions I have taken have been informed by the situation in both localities.
ANHRDC has been well supportive in that regard.
What general life lessons have you learnt during this period and in relation to dance?
Joel: Adaptability and resilience are imperative attributes to navigate uncertainties. While resilience is the ability to recover quickly from any difficulties, adaptability is taking those same difficult situations and adjusting to them to create positive outcomes.
Where do you see the future of performing arts and entertainment industry in Seychelles in the next 5 years?
Joel: I am enthusiastic. We have made considerable progress and we can only get better moving forward. However, within the performing arts and entertainment industry I feel in some instances products lack innovation, they lack edge, they lack refinement.
To build on these we need to invest in the development of human and non-human resources. We need to recognise talent and expertise and to provide opportunities for skills development. We need better physical infrastructure.
The performing arts and entertainment industry subject artists to a lot of criticisms. Artists who function in this environment needs to better embrace feedback to improve the quality of their products.
How will the dance stage and dance as an art generally change post Covid-19?
Joel: The pandemic has brought the global entertainment industry to its knees. Cirque du Soleil, one of the most prominent entertainment companies in the world, has filed for bankruptcy. Theatre houses globally have expressed that they might need to shut their doors and lay off staff permanently. The dance industry has not been spared. However, technology has provided a medium for relief.
I believe that the future of dance will be led by technology. How this impacts the artform positively and/or negatively is a conversation in development. Nevertheless, I see a wealth of possibilities unfolding and I look forward to witness how we leverage them to uplift dance to an even higher status than it held prior to the pandemic.