Legendary watchmakers Rolex has, over nearly two decades, sought to perpetuate excellence and make a lasting contribution to the sharing of knowledge across generations. This is exemplified by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which has evolved into an enriching dialogue between artists of different generations, cultures and disciplines, helping ensure that the world’s artistic heritage is passed on.
On February 8 and 9, more than 200 renowned artists and art leaders from around the world gathered at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Centre for a celebration of the arts at the Rolex Arts Weekend.
A series of public events, including talks, readings, exhibitions, performances, and two world premieres – it featured the work of the 2018−2019 protégés of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative with their mentors.
The two-day celebration was the culmination of the current cycle of the programme, which pairs master artists with emerging artists in several disciplines for a period of creative exchange in a one-to-one mentoring relationship. For nearly two decades now, this programme has sought out gifted young artists in a variety of disciplines from around the world and paired them with artistic masters for a period of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.
One of these pairings includes Canadian dance choreographer Crystal Pite, famed for her transcendental and unique choreography, and Khoudia Touré, a rising star of hip-hop urban street dance. Here, they speak about their unique experience during the Rolex Arts Weekend.
Khoudia, that in the course of the two years of being with Crystal, do you feel that you have changed as a dancer and as a dance maker?
KHOUDIA: For sure. As a dancer, I’ve been surrounded not only by Crystal, but also the dancers from her company, from the different places in which she worked. [Being] in touch with other dancers, from other styles, countries, and environments was definitely very enriching for me as a dancer. What I liked and what I really felt that she helped me out [with] was having more tools in terms of understanding my body, to be more conscious of what I was doing. As a dancer, I just overall manage myself better. As a dance maker, well, I feel very, a beginner. I definitely am super thankful to all the members of my company. I feel this is a process in which we’re starting to grow together. That was also the objective for us to build a dance company. And what Crystal has shared with me is priceless. Just by being here for me, by listening, by taking time to write, to just be with me– changed everything.
Crystal, how did you sort of structure the, or how did you work together through the course of the two year period?
CRYSTAL: I have to say, Khoudia made an extraordinary effort to show up at all the places that I was. It just was extraordinary. [It’s] such a gift to have during these years and also to have her next to me during many different types of projects …she’s been part of that whole process of making a work from scratch, as well as the works I’ve been doing for larger ballet companies. I’ve loved seeing all that with her beside me, through her eyes. It’s like looking at all that work through a different lens and it’s kind of a magnified experience, you know, when you have someone like Khoudia beside you. It’s been very grounding also having her with me.
You’ve said you wanted this experience to be one where you could find yourself by being lost, which I thought was a really interesting thing to say. Can you talk a little bit about what it meant to you?
KHOUDIA: The mentoring programme just arrived at a point in my life when I was definitely looking for knowledge. By being in Senegal, [it] is also a smaller community of dancers and us as members of the company, we also have a role as a big brother or big sister to younger dancers. [So through all the things we were learning], I was able to bring back knowledge [to Senegal] and so I felt like I was giving what I knew and the mentoring programme happened at a point of time where I was really craving for knowledge overall. So in being willing to be lost, I was really looking for something to shock me inside, to also be challenged and discover new things in my body, even if it be in a brutal way. With Crystal’s dance company, I felt so much connection with all the dancers of her company so I was really looking for a physical and emotional change.
How important do you think kind of mentorship, both formal and informal, is in dance and has been to you and you’ve now been able to transmit to Khoudia?
CRYSTAL: I think that dance particularly benefits from a situation like this, this kind of mentorship. Certainly as a young choreographer and also as a young dancer I learned what I did through a series of apprenticeships. It was really through doing and from watching people out ahead of me making work and creating things that I really learned how to [do it] and then a lot of it is just trial and error, isn’t it? We work in this strange, wordless form. It’s all unspoken and so much of what we do happens in the present moment with each other in the studio. There’s some very direct stuff that happens in terms of knowledge and sharing of information and inspiration so it’s really important to be in contact as dance artists. We have to have contact and we need to feel each other and we need to bounce off, literally bounce off of each other, in order to learn what we learn.
KHOUDIA: I could also add that for me, being around Crystal, besides the physical and the technical part, is also just seeing how she is when she works. The way she is collaborating with her dancers, with her team. Everybody wants to work with Crystal. I’ve never met a person who doesn’t want to work with her because she’s extremely generous. She’s a wonderful leader, she leaves space for everyone.
To you, what does leadership in dance mean and why is it so important in dance?
CRYSTAL: Well, I think leadership is half the job really. We don’t work alone, we do this collaboratively and human beings are our medium, so we need to be able to lead and to direct and to be clear, but it’s an interesting tension, I think, between being a leader and being a creator. I think it’s, it’s challenging to do both in the room at the same time. I think when you’re a creator, you need to be in a state of not knowing and you need to be in a state where you’re just open and maybe floundering a little bit and lost, like you were saying earlier. But the leader is the opposite of that, right? You need to know what you’re doing, you need to be clear, you need to be decisive and you need to have a plan. And you need to have the skill to put that plan into action. So those are very, very different states and they’re both required to be able to make things on stage and with people. So for me, I think what I’m still trying to learn is how to balance that, how to leave space for not knowing and then how to be able to take control of a room. It’s a really good challenge.
KHOUDIA: I felt learning a lot about dealing with my ego as well in terms of having a lot of very clear ideas and feeling that they’re right, and this is what is supposed to be, but also through the exchange with the dancers around me having to also let go of ideas, let go of material, let go of things that I felt were so necessary for the piece but actually are not so much. [I think] leadership is a growing process.
CRYSTAL: It’s a funny feeling to find myself in the position of being a mentor, actually, and I
guess, my way of being with Khoudia was just to keep doing what I do with her next to me, and to basically just enjoy these moments together. And to celebrate things that go well and to debrief about things that didn’t go well, and to share these experiences with her. I don’t know how, other than by doing what I do, I don’t know how to teach. And, you know, to be honest, I’ve never really been taught myself, you know. It’s more of a process of osmosis, being near people and soaking up information as it goes along. It’s Khoudia’s story, it’s her story as to how that’s happened and what’s she’s taken away from it.
So what do you feel you have taken?
KHOUDIA: What I’ve taken away, on top of all the different things that I’ve taken away from Crysta, [is] a way to trust my instincts, trust myself, being with others, and being with myself in terms of making art and being creative.
Crystal, looking back over the two years, what do you feel that you have taken from Khoudia?
CRYSTAL: I have to say, watching [her] today, in the last couple of days, just the way [she] is coping with all this pressure and expectation. She’s so grounded, she’s so effortlessly confident and she hangs on to her kindness and her generosity even in the thick of it. I found that very, very inspiring. She’s a great listener and I love how she applies both her instincts and her intellect to everything, and her intellect to everything that she does. There’s something so peaceful and open and grounded about the way she is as a person and that you see the way she brings that into the studio and into her work. It’s quite extraordinary. She takes her time and that is something I would like to learn how to do. She finds things that you don’t find any other way. And if you’re able to focus and take your time in a moment, I find that quite beautiful.
And Khoudia, how would you sum up your two years as a Rolex protégée? How would you want to describe it?
KHOUDIA: I barely can believe it’s been two years. I really don’t believe it’s been two years. I just feel like a major change in myself. A sense of overcoming some struggles and challenges. And I feel very blessed. Definitely I feel very, very, very lucky to a point that I can’t even describe and I don’t know. Just being in that room and for us to dance in front of all those people is, is crazy, really. And I just feel blessed that I have her in my life.