Words by Inês Carvalho.
Simbarashe Norman Fulukia (Simba) founded Vestland Danseteater with the aim of creating room for artists with a multicultural background. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Simba arrived in Norway as an exchange student, became a member of Carte Blanche (The Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance) and has been advocating for a more diverse dance scene.
In 1997, he created Simba Arts, a non-profit organisation that works both in Zimbabwe and Norway to empower marginalised communities through dance, educational opportunities, community building and cultural exchange. We spoke with Simba about his newest choreography piece, Stains & Platter, and how he has been a powerful voice in the dance sector.
DAJ: What’s the mission behind Vestland Danseteater?
Simba: Vestland Danseteater is the first dance theatre company of its kind in Vestland and Southern Africa. Its main goal is to become an artistic epicentre for professional artists who belong to minority groups both in Norway and Zimbabwe. The company advocates diversity and equal opportunities in the field of culture, as well as in society in general. Working in these two countries at the same time, Vestland Danseteater was created to overcome the lack of visibility of dancers and professional artists from the minority groups; we are there, but at the same time, we are not there. That’s why we are playing our part to have our voices out there.
My purpose is to build bridges, remain resilient and truthful to my mission, strongly connected with the values of Ubuntu. That is why we can say that Vestland Danseteater is a manifestation of my journey as a creative being on earth. It’s a platform to share our voices, to speak through our colorful movements and art, as we believe in the power of dance and its ability to reveal truth. Our performances are a space for people to come, engage, support and celebrate our shared human experience.
At the moment, we are based both in Norway and Zimbabwe, the country where it all began. But we don’t restrict our company members to these two countries. We collaborate with people from all backgrounds, as long as they match our project and values. This idea of promoting a global collaboration was the inspiration behind our annual festival (Ubuntu Vybz Festival) where we promote our humaneness and the strength of the collective.
DAJ: Can you tell us more about Vestland Danseteater’s first piece, Figure-ring New Voices?
Simba: I think the title says everything about the theme of this performance. It was a critique of society that invoked dialogue based on thoughts and experiences of immigrants, their personal identities and aspirations in a new home. A home where personal qualities and dreams are the same as they always have been, but where the framework is completely different. Many immigrants strongly feel inadequate, no matter how hard they work to be fully integrated into the new home and society. They feel disconnected despite they are in fact fully functional.
DAJ: You are currently working on a second production. Does it also explore the topic of the previous piece?
Simba: This new production is called “Stains & Platter” and we can share a bit more about it as it’s actually a continuation of the first piece, because everything we do in life follows one another, and the same happens with our artistic work. “Stains & Platter” is a spiritual and numerological dance performance, based on iNf9t flo, a rarely explored movement language rooted in Ubuntu that I coined. Six performers will be on stage with live music, exploring the concept of infinity flow, which is a signature of Vestland Danseteater movement. Yet, we don’t like to call it a technique: it’s a way of life, aligned with the principle of Ubuntu. Six dancers will bring their personal imprints to pursue inner peace with the goal of getting home – whatever “home” means to each one of them. We can say that the aim of this piece is achieving a common home that can unify us humans as one.
DAJ: How can we create a more diverse dance sector?
Simba: First and foremost, a more diverse dance sector has always been there. We don’t need to create a more diverse sector, because it does exist! I like to believe that dance is already diverse. What we need is room for the diversity to coexist, and more action and less talking. For so long, we were dependent on the majority to do things for us. But there’s space for everyone, so we stopped complaining and started doing.
The diversity in our community should be reflected in all parts of our lives, and if we don’t see this that’s because there’s a lack of political will to make this change. Nevertheless, some of us from minority groups have decided to stand out by creating our own platforms that contribute to a more balanced society. Because for far too long we’ve been trying to fit in… But why not bring our chair to the table? We just brought our own chair, which is Vestland Danseteater, and we created our festival and productions. If we don’t do it, who will be doing it for us? We don’t want to spend much time looking for the problems, but being the solution and working our way in the system.
However, we all still need to work more to make room for the diverse voices to be heard. National theatres and mainstream platforms need to assure on their programmes the visibility of all voices and not only working with diversity when it’s convenient to them. That is a NO! And the minority should stop trying to fit in and, instead, showcasing their own art and voices. And I am speaking from my own experience. I arrived in Norway on an exchange programme and I always pursued the value of cultural exchange. I want to inspire people, to build a bridge that gets stronger and stronger.
Vestland Danseteater’s newest production, Stains & Platter, premieres this Autumn in Bergen, Norway, on the 19th and 20thof November, at Studio USF. This work is co-produced by BIT Teatergarasjen, Carte Blanche, Fana Kulturhus, Syv mil and Simba Arts. There will be the chance to watch the video of the performance, with a date to be confirmed. More information and news available on Vestland Danseteater website.