The Nuba Bird Dance at Bodies Alive! – Nao Dance Collective

The Nuba Bird Dance, performed by the Nao Dance Collective as part of our Bodies Alive! show at the Face and Body Art International Convention (FABAIC) in Orlando, 2008 — in black and white bodypaint designs based on the analytical sketches of James C. Faris in his book "Nuba Personal Art"

by Christopher Agostino

The underlying creative intention behind Bodies Alive! was to explore how movement and performance can bring bodyart to life, so we sought to create a modern dance piece inspired by bodypainting. In any previous opportunities I’d had to bodypaint dancers for performance my task was to create designs to support an existing theme and concept. For this dance the makeup design came first.

Nao Dance Collective  is a structured improvisational company under the direction of Linda Eve Elchak — just the kind of group we were looking for to create a brand new piece for a single performance. We discussed the project and I sent the music, sketches for the bodypainting and some insight about the functional effect of this type of tribal bodyart: that the use of hard-edged  geometric designs is intended to break the human form and destroy recognizable individual identity, and thereby create a new unified tribal identity. I suggested the dancers could take advantage of this visual confusion by contrasting movement as a group with movement as individuals. From that, they created the piece. It was thrilling for me to see what these elements had led to in the rehearsal before the Orlando show. We didn’t paint them for the rehearsal, so they had some concerns about what performing in bodypaint would be like, particularly if they had to be careful not to smudge it by touching each other — and I reassured them that I wanted the paint to be alive, to change and to smear and to transfer from one dancer to another as it would in a tribal dance.

The dancers were painted by a group of experienced bodypainters following my designs (see their foto below, and the video of the bodypainting room). Bodies Alive! required the participation of dozens of models and performers, along with teams of designers, painters and assistants — a resource we might only have found at an event like the Face and Body Art International Convention (FABAIC) , celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year, and I will be there again.

Putting the music together for this piece involved some serendipity. Although I wanted something tribal, I was taking these body designs so far out of their original context that I didn’t want anything directly connected to the Nuba or African culture. The chant is listed as “Kecak: The Ramayana Monkey Chant  from Bali” on a cd of Indonesia music from Nonesuch Records‘ Explorer Series Once you hear it, it stays with you. I had it stuck in my head for this, but didn’t think it was enough to build the dance around and was looking for alternatives when I heard “Surfer Bird” by The Trashman on Bob Dylan’s radio show. The pieces fit, the rhythm was right and there is that iconic Nuba face design of the ostrich over the eye to seal the deal.

See the previous post, and search “Nuba” on this site for more information.

Nuba Bird Dance Painters: Paola Paredes-Shenk, Leah Reddell, Kerry Ann Smith, Diane and Theresa Spadola, Pam Trent, Jeff Edney, Deidre MacDonald

Learn more at my Body Painting Page

One comment on “The Nuba Bird Dance at Bodies Alive! – Nao Dance Collective

  1. Jack Fink says:

    I enjoyed the dance video and the painting of the bodies. In the latter I found myself searching for the identity of the individuals in their faces, but the painted designs naturally interfered. Then reviewing and reading your text “. . that the use of hard-edged geometric designs is intended to break the human form and destroy recognizable individual identity, and thereby create a new unified tribal identity.” And it certainly did in the dance itself.

    Apart from the immediate subject, the above text triggered my thoughts on the nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan; their people’s sacrifices made for the good of the larger populace. This seems so different than what I expect would go on here in this country under similar circumstances. Japan, like all other societies, has conflicts between individual and group. What is different from North American society is not that the Japanese have no sense of self but rather that the self is defined through its interaction with others and not merely through the force of individual personality. Something of your intention in the body painting contributing to the dance.

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