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Shannon Tootla a Wits Alumna, Thespian & Professional Dancer

If possible, this interview would be done over lunch at Chicken Licken with some Armand de Brignac. The person we are about to interview introduced me to Pusha–T and sparked my interest in Physical Theatre; because of this my thinking behind dance and design was exposed to another plateau. I instantly became an admirer of artists like Marina Abramovic, Ido Portal, and Gregory Maqoma, just to name a few. Ladies and gentlemen, please help us introduce our next guest, Shannon Tootla, by sharing or liking this article. [Sounds of fingers clicking away.]

Dance Africa Network: Thank you for taking out the time to do the interview. Could you do the honors of introducing yourself for those who do not know you?

Shannon: Firstly, I’d like to thank Dance Africa for having me, I am truly honored. I was born and raised in Johannesburg and have been a dancer for the most part of my life. At 25, I am a qualified thespian, dance academic and newly qualified drama teacher at secondary level. That said, much of my interests are rooted within the movement and performance sphere.

Dance Africa Network: I’m going to get straight into it. Looking at the projects you have worked on, Dizzy Monks music video, Go Barefoot music video, The Sins of My Body and, Seeds of Life and Seeds Of Death, it seems like you are selective on who you work with. How do you choose which projects to work on and which to leave?

Shannon: For me, the most important takeaway from any project is growth as both a performer and storyteller in more than one medium. I prefer projects that will challenge me in some way or another. For example, having been a “live” or stage performer for nearly 10 years, performing for TV or digital media then becomes the catalyst in breaking a boundary for myself. I also just really want to understand movement and any time I come across a project that’s going to be an exploration of movement and an experiential process, rather than a mere “making of a performance”, I go for it!

Dance Africa Network:  Could you maybe briefly explain the difference between musical theatre and physical theatre?

Shannon: Physical theatre emphasizes the use of physical movement for expression; however, it is not limited to it. Dance and mime are two forms commonly used. Musical theatre on the other hand is a combination of physical movement, spoken dialogue, acting and dance to form an integrated whole.

Dance Africa Network:  I hope I don’t offend anyone or yourself with my next question. I know of a few dance professionals who have studied dance at a higher education institute, then end up on set or at an event with a head choreographer who hasn’t formally studied dance, or perhaps is an autodidact. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of studying dance at a higher education institute?

Shannon: I honestly believe that studying dance at a higher education institution does not automatically place one above the next dancer for the two simple reasons: 1. You cannot be taught to be an incredible dancer or choreographer, 2. The only thing that dancers have in common is that we dance; our interests and career endeavors are vastly different. Besides the primary reason we all find ourselves on the same set, which is the money, we take away different things. I definitely think that the sooner we actualize the aforementioned, the better for everyone because that eliminates the unnecessary sense of hierarchy amongst industry peers. 

Dance Africa Network: For those who don’t know, you have a street dance background. Has that given you any advantage or disadvantage whilst you were studying physical theatre?

Shannon: A bit of both. I had come in with a lot of experience and therefore had an organic understanding throughout my studies. However, it was the “unlearning” of comfortable movement patterns learnt in my informal years that became the biggest challenge. To this day, I struggle to completely switch the hip-hop off in a contemporary piece and vice-versa.

Dance Africa Network: You are sent back to the past and you have to be in a crew for a year. Your choices are A.I or Freeze Frame. Choose one?

Shannon: A.I!! With Paul, Darim, Naby, Sakhele, Flip, Tumi and Twist!

Dance African Network: Literally asking for a friend. What is the secret behind your clear and smooth skin?

Shannon: Lots of water, organic products for your cleansing routine, bentonite clay for a face mask and fragrance free moisturizers. Your skin will love you back!

Dance Africa Network: Where to from now when it comes to dancing?

Shannon: Having finished my post-grad last year, this year was really meant to be the year of dance. But in these uncertain times, I will continue to train and document until such time that I can get back into the swing of physical theatre. Aside from that, my heart is set on using my teaching qualification to secure a job abroad and expand my horizons, for at least 2 years. If I can become involved with the dance culture wherever I may land, that would certainly be a plus. 

Dance Africa Network: I had the opportunity of being invited to come watch one of your final exam showcases at your University. What was mind blowing is that we watched your piece from a window of the second floor of a building, whilst you performed at ground level. It actually rained that day and you had to carry on with the performance, which I thought was really artistic (who gets to feature Mother Nature in a performance). What is your thought process when coming up with a performance of that caliber?  

Shannon: Thank you. That was definitely one of the best solo performances I have ever made and performed. I think that a big part of that came from the fact that it was quite an emotional one for me, as it was a tribute to a companion I had lost in my first year of studies. So you take your theme, and in every session, you dig deeper, you dig until the emotion actually physically manifests. At the time, I was also quite fascinated by the notion of the “abject”, where the execution of strenuous movement is used to portray internal or emotional pain, so the work was a combination of a few things. I’d say that to create work with such loaded meaning; the process of making should be dominated by constantly accessing “self” in the work or dance.

Dance Africa Network: If you could choose a mentor, a person to collaborate with and a brand to work with, who would you select?

Shannon: In this present moment, I would choose my university lecturer, Jony Barnard, as a mentor. I would absolutely love to collaborate with theatre practitioner and performer, SunnyBoy Motau, from Moving Into Dance and it would really blow my mind to get the opportunity to collaborate with Nike Women. I imagine a seamless meeting of Nike with fierce women who are working to dominate the performance and physical theatre space.

Dance Africa Network: Unfortunately for us, it ends here. Hopefully in the near future we get a chance to dig deeper into your projects and thought process. We wish you luck in your future endeavors and we hope Ponds makes you their ambassador in the near future (laughs). Thank you once again.

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Written By: Dance Africa Network

Edited By: Leila Meyer

Headline Image: Paul Luthando

Dance Africa Network Team

Africa's largest growing Dance Network. Connecting the dot's to better our culture.

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