I'm writing to you because I feel I didn't explain myself well about why I created this image of a woman half black, half white (mostly black!). From what I remember now, what really impressed me, in Josephine's story, was the effect her body had in Europe (mostly in France). Men went really wild with her, with that exotic thing, that crazy, funny and sexy thing (1). Her (almost naked) body and its, let's say, dynamics (energy/movement/funniness) created a whole frisson around her. So, if I wanted to work on her I had to bring her body back somehow, there was no other way around it. And, being white, I had to become black in order to bring her body back.
Of course that, as soon as I thought of painting myself black I loved the idea because by then (and maybe still now) I was very interested in the possibility of the metamorphosis of the body.
I love whatever means changing the way we usually look as human beings, changing our image, transforming what we usually are, being other beings, if only for a little while.
As soon as I thought of it I also loved the idea because I realized immediately the very strong effect that having two colors at the same time would create. especially being black and white at the same time. There is no more one side nor the other, there are the two sides in the same place, two races in one body. "I take your colour in me". There is also the vibration or friction that the impossibility and the paradox create. (I guess this is the post colonial side of it).
And in a way Josephine Baker also became half black, half white throughout her life, because she was totally "acculturated" into white european culture.
And there is at least one other reason for this double-sided woman, which is me having to face the "mission" of doing a solo about someone else (I had already faced this problem doing a solo about Nijinsky). How do I embrace this mission? I just talk about the other person? Or should I also talk about myself?
Where do I stand in the "middle" of this person, in the middle of this work about this person? The black and white woman is also an answer to this problem, I make a sort of fusion with her.
And looking at the notes of the creation I find another interesting thing: I have one black friend who used to tell me that I'm black too! "You must be black", he would say. Because of my rhythmicity. And the very curly hair also helped! So in the notes I find "I'm already half white and half black", even before painting myself.
Another thing: black people have a (terrible) history of trying to make their skin white. I knew I was turning history upside down by painting myself black. Well, I guess this is again the post colonial part playing.
(1) that's why e.e.cummings wrote about her "one mysterious Thing, neither primitive nor civilized, or beyond time, in the sense that emotion is beyond arithmetics"
Letter to Aylin Ersöz
The solo “one mysterious Thing, said e.e.cummings” was created in January 1996 for the “Homage to Josephine Baker”, an event organized by the theatre Culturgest in Lisbon. In her vision of the life and the work of the black dancer and singer of the first half of the 20th century, Vera Mantero chose an approach that goes beyond the face of Josephine Baker. In the program she wrote: “It is one thing that I would like to find or create: a vast territory in which richness of spirit prevails. (…) This spirit I’m talking about has no wish to abolish the body, has no shame of its desire and of its sex, what this spirit wishes is to eradicate coarseness, the frightful foolishness, the deep ignorance, the poverty of horizons, the materialism, etc., etc. (unfortunately, this seems to be a long list...).”
"An impossibility, a bad way of living, a sadness, an absence, a sorrow, an inability, atrocious" are some of the words that are repeated, with an insistence growing, throughout the spectacle "where Vera Mantero precariously balances herself on goat feet and budging to the rhythm of difficulty that the words enunciate without arriving to pull out the feet of the condemnation to which they remain. Exasperating corporisation of an uncomfortableness that, as one knows, always begins by being a not knowing what to do with the body" describes Alexandre Melo in Expresso. And he concludes: "Two hypotheses to describe this generic, general, civilizational situation: there is something that lacks. Or, maybe better, there is something that is not."
Text in the press-release of the festival Danças na Cidade 1996
João Paulo Xavier
Hugo Coelho - Aldeia da Luz
Casa da Juventude de Almada, Re.al / Amascultura
30 - 31 August 2017, Les Brigittines, Brussels/Belgium
24 February 2017, Nova\Velha Dança cycle/Associação Parasita, Teatro Sá da Bandeira, Santarém/Portugal