Talking to Calvin Ratladi A Gathering In A Better World

“A Gathering In A Better World” at the Festival Theaterformen in Braunschweig 2022
“A Gathering In A Better World” at the Festival Theaterformen in Braunschweig 2022 | © Andreas Greiner-Napp

“A Gathering In A Better World” wants to create a worldwide network for artists with disabilities in dance, for whom there are still hardly any structures or offers. An interview with Calvin Ratladi about directing the project’s Johannesburg iteration.

Gathering In A Better World: Meeting and networking opportunities as well as creative spaces, were conceptualized by artists with disabilities across different artistic disciplines and for a broad audience with and without disabilities. The project was initiated by the festival Theaterformen and the Goethe-Institut and took place in 2022 and 2023 in Braunschweig, Johannesburg, Montevideo, Shanghai, and Kyoto. A few days before the Johannesburg iteration of A Gathering In A Better World in March 2023, Calvin shared his thoughts about his creative practice and what it means to gather in Africa – in a conversation with journalist Aleya Kassam.

Calvin Ratladi Calvin Ratladi Calvin Ratladi: I’ve never done something so amazing in my career. I’m working with incredible artists in A Gathering. I’m going back to reclaim their stories and the work they are doing. I’m interested in a conversation that goes beyond inclusion. It’s how do we return each other to humanity. For me, there’s a system of history on how do we view certain bodies and how certain bodies should be perceived when we come across them. I refuse to believe the narrative that how we define disability in Africa is violent. It’s a narrative that has been built. ​​​​

Calvin’s career is one that has traversed many spaces. A trained interdisciplinary artist who works as a freelance producer, director, writer, actor/performer, choreographer, fieldworker, dramaturg, curator, and arts administrator for various companies, organisations, and institutions including William Kentridge’s The Centre for the Less Good Idea, Ratladi is well-known for his adaptability and advocacy of identity, politics of the body in post-coloniality, and giving voice to people living with disabilities. 

Calvin Ratladi: People with disabilities have been excluded from participating in society – this history of people living with disability is also unwritten. A Gathering becomes that opportunity to come and reclaim and resuscitate and archive that which we’ve been denied to have in history. In my career, I’ve never done ‘inclusive’ work – I’ve negotiated my body without negotiating to exist. It goes back to my practice – I’ve managed as an artist to not be seen as a disabled artist especially when I’m on stage – I’m able to swallow my body, to be seen as human, and bring it where it needs to be as a magical realistic being, or as a metaphor.

The Johannesburg curation is a physical extension of connecting Sub-Saharan African artists living with disabilities on a series of workshops, masterclasses, conversations (podcasts), collaborations, writings, and producing of new work developed within the framework of archiving ‘Arts, Disability, Performances’ research. The project is conceived as an experimental, performative, and playful space for exchange and dialogue between artists and thinkers whose practices are devoted to social justice and disability. When we talk about Calvin’s own artistic process, he shares what he has learned about his own craft.

Calvin Ratladi: I take the position of being a student first. I go back and try to make connections, based on embodied experiences and where I fit in within the socio-political environment we exist. (I ask), how do I also become genuine to myself, to my experiences? What makes a great director? What makes you think your take is special? That’s when you need to tap into your embodied experience, your lens, how you view the world, and bring it in such a way you are genuine – and that we can be taken on a journey.

I’m intrigued by the choice behind the word Gathering. When Calvin explains, the vision that underpins his approach shines through.

Calvin Ratladi: The intention behind calling it a gathering – when we gather in Africa, we gather for sacred, ritualistic, ceremonial purposes – and this is no different – in this case we are coming to be in a ritual where we negotiate ourselves back into the concept of humanity.  When we come to be together, we come for these reasons. We are not here to beg you – please come and co-coexist with people with disabilities. You are coming to see people living with disability in their excellence. The biggest dream of this gathering, is the book that emerges…scholars are invited to sit in and contribute – every year a gathering creates a book to create something tangible for the archive. It’s a beautiful project.

About the project

“A Gathering in a Better World” (TGIABW) will host interdisciplinary series of workshops and masterclasses for a period of 5 days from 1st to 5th March, 2023. These Workshops and Masterclasses are aimed at artists, thinkers, and practitioners who are interested in all-inclusive practice and performance. The TGIABW has invited and outsourced artists and practitioners from a diverse array of fields to be part of the programme. The programme of workshops and masterclasses will explore theatre-making, writing, choreography, design, movement, and dance, amongst other disciplines. The programme will be presented by reputable practitioners and educators from South Africa and Mozambique. The intended outcome is a presentation of a concept for a new live performance developed during Workshops and Masterclasses, to be presented at a Public Showing. This presentation features seasoned artists such as Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala, Chuma Sopotela, Nadine McKenzie, Andile Vellem, Teresa Phuti, Thulane Chauke, Nceba Gongxeka, Sello Sebotsane, Anathi Conjwa, Siphenati Mayekiso, and Calvin Ratladi.