"As a dramaturge, I make suggestions to the makers on their work. This can go from music and lighting to shortening a particular part of their piece. What an editor is to an author, a dramaturge is to a theatre maker. The makers have the final say, but it is largely a collaborative process, indeed. Moreover, for VIERNULVIER, I am the house-dramaturg. So I am less concerned with one-on-one productions as I am with questions on the structural level of the house: how to have the diversity (on the levels of identity and ways of working) that we see in our artistic program reflected in the actual organisation itself?"
Although Kopano is only 28, they have a flourishing career. They studied dance and social anthropology at the University of Cape Town, and began dancing with various companies and performance makers during their student years. This earned them several awards. Yet they never had a specific career plan.
"I come from South Africa, where you have to grab every opportunity you can in order to make a career possible as an artist. I never had any formal training as a dramaturge. But I worked in so many capacities in the performance world - dancing, acting, writing about art - that I can now draw on a wealth of experience."
Growing up in a creative environment also helped.
"Although my parents are not artists themselves - my father is an engineer, my mother is a lecturer in entrepreneurial sciences at a university - they are both very musical: there was always opera music playing at home. And, I come from the culture of seSotho and isiXhosa people, where people sing at every gathering, such as a funeral or wedding. It is a culture where creativity is a part of daily life. This has seeped into my professional interests."
Through their Belgian partner, Kopano met Matthieu Goeury, VIERNULVIER’s artistic coordinator.
"I first worked on several projects at De Vooruit as a freelancer. When the previous dramaturge, Róise Goan, left, Matthieu thought I would be a good asset to the arts centre. That's why I moved from South Africa to Brussels.”
Kopano sees their work as a dramaturge as an interesting interaction.
"I've learned a lot in the past few years, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to leave my mark on the VIERNULVIER programme. One has to try to be aware of their blind spots within one’s own community. Which, for VIERNULVIER, seems to be predominantly white middle-class people. We are still developing an awareness of class consciousness, and the intricacies of racism. In that regard, culture can be super useful. What can we, as an organisation, structurally mean for a community like Black History Month Belgium or Bebe Books? I hope to raise awareness with the work that we do together."
Some of the performances during WTF are centred around identity and gender. You are non-binary yourself. Is that a big difference in South Africa compared to Belgium?
“If I walk down the streets of South Africa in a dress, straight men will be intrigued. Here, there is always a level of aggression involved.
In my indigenous languages (seSotho and isiXhosa) we don’t have gendered pronouns. Gender also operates differently. Historically, it’s not a central organising principle - not like ‘the woman stays home for the kids’. We come from a culture of seniority: whoever is the oldest, is the head of the household. We don’t have the same gender system as the English or the Dutch, but through colonisation, it got imprinted on the language and the society. English people brought this male superiority with them and instilled this on native South Africans. That really destabilised a lot. Historically, we were one of the first countries to make same-sex marriage constituionally accessible. Legally, the country is very open.
The first time I experienced any kind of aggression because of presenting as queer or non-binary on the streets, was in Belgium. Me and my partner used to live in Anderlecht, where people used to throw rocks at us. Here in Ghent, a French-speaking man started calling me a faggot, adding that I’m a disgrace to the black race and misrepresenting black people. I never had that in South Africa, I don’t know why that is. We also have queer phobic incidents in South Africa, but I think there’s a deeply rooted misogyny in the culture, so the queer violence is more towards women and femininity.”
Do you find that hurtful?
“No one grows up with that aggression naturally inside of them, it came from somewhere. I don’t know how angry I can be at someone for not understanding who I am. People are also afraid of the unknown. If you don’t have a government or educational system that makes sure people are mixing and teaches you how to engage respectfully with the unknown, this is what happens.
But there is hope for improvement: Gen Z, with people like Anuna De Wever, deal with identity labels in a very flexible way and are very tolerant. I can only applaud that.”