David Pace | Part 3: The Dance

Jun 30, 2016 7:26PM

Dancing, though imbued with region and culture, also supersedes it. To dance is to move, to hear music and respond to it, to let go and enjoy those around you and the movement of your own body. Martha Graham once said, “dancing is the hidden language of the soul,” and it is a language most all of us share, regardless of geography. 

Le Cotonnier 4350, 2015
Wirtz Art

Almost every Friday night, the people of Bereba convene for the weekly dance at Le Cotonnier, a small outdoor club at the edge of the village. There, the young and old come together to dance to the music of Niger and Cote d’Ivoire, which pulsates from blown speakers into the West African countryside. A concrete slab serves as a dance floor, and David Pace as the club’s resident photographer—the flash of his camera a radiant addition to the evening’s festivities.   

Le Cotonnier 4405, 2015
Wirtz Art
Le Cotonnier 2407, 2015
Wirtz Art
Le Cotonnier 1227, 2015
Wirtz Art

In Pace’s images, better summed up as moments caught between bursts, Graham’s words ring true; the reservation and formality that frame his other portraits is cast off. What is left is something more soulful and urgent, brought about by the intimacy between photographer and subject, camera and body, together in harmony to the rhythm of music—their shared language.

Pace’s images of the dance, a series which he calls Friday Night, are influenced by the iconic images of the late Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé. Sidibé’s photographs of young people dancing in 1960s Mali not only sets the stage for Pace’s work compositionally, but also socio-politically. Like Sidibé, who was documenting the transformation of Mali after gaining its independence from France and the ensuing social transformations, Pace too is documenting a country and people located somewhere at the intersection of Western modernity, post-colonial rule, and their own culture and traditions.  

Nuit de Noël (Happy Club), 1963
"Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design" at Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein (2015)

Yet Pace’s digital work, with its bright, crisp colors, is very much of the 21st century. The heat of the dance floor is palpable and the sheen of sweat, familiar to anyone who has ever jubilantly danced in a crowded club on a hot summer night, is clearly visible. The immediacy of the digital medium gives Pace a compositional freedom that allows the viewer to almost feel the arms and legs tangled about them—just as Pace likely felt when taking the photograph, his legs bending low to stay along with a particular dancer. His proximity is not only physical, but psychological—he is there, part of the group, moving and vibrating along with them. 

The dance series is a culmination of Pace’s role in Burkina Faso, as someone invested, communing, and witnessing as more than just an observer. Pace says, “perhaps the most important change has been my role in Bereba and my relationship to the villagers.” His images have the spontaneity and interest that only seems possible when one enters an unfamiliar space with an open mind so that everything, even the most ordinary and routine, is important and beautiful. Yet in the images of the dance, it is clear that Pace has found his role, his rhythm, in the life of the a small village—the flash of his camera illuminating the joy and soul of its people.