TBB Talks To … Performance Artist Cherish Menzo

Cherish Menzo is a Netherlands-based dance artist …

She will be kicking off Battersea Art Centre (BAC’s) autumn season with her first solo work, the provocative Jezebel which she brings to the UK for the first time this October.

The award-winning Dance performance combines Cherish‘s long-held fascination with society’s gaze, expectations and the music industry. In particular, she shines a light on the overlooked Black women artists who were so crucial to the popularity and aesthetic of hip-hop culture – the impact of racist stereotypes that demonised them from the 90s to today, and how a new generation is reclaiming their image.

We spoke to Cherish about JEZEBEL which is part of a trilogy that she has tirelessly worked on, what she has coming up and how she uses dance to convey her thoughts on how society depicts her subject matters …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Cherish Menzo, I’m a 34-year-old Surinamese performing artist and maker, born and raised in The Netherlands.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Doing my thing in full gear motion.

Tell us about your latest project / Tell us about your current job.

Together with fellow choreographers Femke Gyselinck, Jan Martens and Steven Michel, I take care of the artistic direction of the choreographic platform GRIP.  We’re bringing the first piece I choreographed, JEZEBEL, to the UK for the first time. It’s also the start of a trilogy I’ve been working on, and I’m also touring the second part DARKMATTER  around Europe at the moment.

What’s your role in it?

I choreographed and perform in JEZEBEL.

How did it come about?

JEZEBEL by Cherish Menzo at BAC autumn 2022 Credit Annelies Verhelst

The themes which I tackle in JEZEBEL find their origin in how Black women are portrayed in our visual culture, and the narratives and stereotypes surrounding the Black body. During the creation process, the complexity and contradictions that arose made me want to search for ways to look further, beyond the (present) reality. Is there room to dream and rethink and redraw the body? Can it be disconnected from a historical and existing mindset, or should I take these elements with me in my work process? For both JEZEBEL and the second part of my trilogy, DARKMATTER (and probably for the third part) the distortion of the body and how we read it has been my main drive.

The idea of a figure or entity twisted out of its “original” shape creates a state and place of continuous transformation for me. 

Tell us about the high points of the project, any obstacles to getting it completed and how you resolved them.

Highs: The gift that a finished performance is, how the material manifests itself sometimes because of my input or through all elements coming together. Presenting to the audience for them to see the end result. Fruitful exchange with artistic collaborators and the local communities (exchange, inspiration gained from the exchange with local Black communities during the process.).

Lows: Dealing with a huge sense of responsibility, and the importance of how to show the Black body on stage sometimes blocked me because of wanting to be precocious and caring.

Solutions: To allow myself to experiment and dive into my journey and imagination.

What’s your current plan B?

I would maybe want to become a dog groomer or work with animals.

What’s made you sad, mad and glad this week?

Sad: That I don’t always have everything under control.

Mad: That I’m bothered that I don’t always have everything under control.

Glad: When I realise that it’s fine to not have everything under control

JEZEBEL by Cherish Menzo at BAC autumn 2022 Credit Annelies Verhelst

What are you watching right now?

Akira. A manga series.

What are you reading right now?

I’m often reading a couple of books at the same time. Right now it’s All about love by bell hooks, Rosi Braidotti’s Posthumanism feminismGlitch Feminism by Legacy Russell.

What are you listening to right now?

Earth, Wind and Fire – Fantasy

The last thing you saw on stage?

Mourn baby mourn by Katerina Andreou, which I saw at the Short Theatre Festival in Rome.

What’s on your bucket list? 

To travel to Japan.

Celebrate someone else! Who do you rate right now?

My younger sister: Shavelie Menzo.

Celebrate yourself – make us proud of you!

No, that’s okay, I prefer to celebrate someone else

Where can we find you and your project?

You can watch JEZEBEL at Battersea Arts Centre 6 – 14 October, with an audio-described performance on 13 October. All tickets Pay What You Can via bac.org.uk. Then at Fierce Festival 2022 (at Midlands Arts Centre) on 16 October. Tickets: wearefierce.org


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