An Interview with Arthur Pita
by Lara Hartley
One of the most amusing and delightful interviews I had was with Arthur Pita.
Arthur is 29 one of the “older boys” he says but he only looks 22 to me!
AP:I was born in South Africa, but I have Portuguese parents. My family came from Madera Island, which is a Portuguese island and then they immigrated to South Africa. We were the first generation to be born there as South African Portuguese. So we lived kinda like Portuguese people but in South Africa, so it was always rather strange.
LH: What do you mean live like Portuguese people?
AP: Because the whole family basically immigrated from Madera to South Africa. My parents got married and then immigrated and then my mother’s parents came. So everybody moved to this land of opportunity.
They all came from small villages. They wanted bigger better things. So we were born in South Africa and had to deal with all of that growing up. Because they were direct from Madera it was very much a Portuguese household. There is quite a bit of a Portuguese community. The food and language. It was also strange being considered white or Caucasian in South Africa. It that town there was no connection with any Black culture. So it was like being Portuguese, which is already separate from the White community of South Africa which was separate than the Black community. So it was a very different upbringing there.
LH: Did you learn to dance there?
AP: Yes. When the movie Grease came out with John Travolta, he was my first idol, my dream. We got this little leaflet saying that there was this place called Dynamo Dance World which taught disco dancing and Latin American lessons. And so of course I wanted to go and my sisters as well so we all went for lessons.
And I was the one that ended up staying the longest. And did it for years and years and years.
Have you ever seen Strictly Ballroom, the film? Well it is completely that world that exists, you know competition, you go to competition and you have the number on your back.
LH: Did you do that?!
AP: Yeh. I did that for many years. Up until I was about 16 -17. So I started as a kid. I think that was a very good form of training because it was also very free and just rhythm. So, there is not this restriction. I think that is better for a child. Because if you start with ballet you can become quite stiff and rigid in your movement. But doing the free style is a good thing because you just have to be loose and kick and turn and be fast. And the competitive thing I think was also good as well because it taught you how to compete. But in a good way.
Then I went to the Johannesburg Athletic Drama and Music School where I did ballet, contemporary and Spanish. And the ballet thing I never liked. I never felt like I could be a prince on stage or something. But my contemporary teacher who used to dance with Alvin Ailey and then came to South Africa and started teaching and she was great and she did these great works that we used to do. Which I was completely inspired by. I had never done anything like that or seen anything like that.
I kinda wanted more of that. And I knew that contemporary was the thing for me.
I finished school and I went to London Contemporary Dance School. I auditioned, sent a video tape, got in and did that for four years.
That was like the right thing. because I was then completely in the right place.
(This next part of our talk was full of laughter on both parts!)
But I could have gone on the commercial road if I hadn’t found …. probably would have ended up doing the Lido or Moulin Rouge in Paris, that kind of commercial work.
LH: You mean like musical theater sort of thing.
AP: No, I think even lower. The Moulin Rouge in Paris, where the women dance topless and the men are behind.
LH: Like showgirl stuff?
AP: Vegas-y stuff!
A lot of the people that I used to do disco dancing stuff with ended up going on that road. And I kinda thought I _really_ don’t want to do that because I want to do something more artistic. So thank God it all happened, yes thank God it all happened.
And that was great. And then when I got into contemporary I discovered what ballet was all about, it was a good grounding and a good background.
My ballet teachers at school weren’t very nice to me because I was very loose and because the other boys had been there before me and they wanted to go to the ballet company and I didn’t. I clearly wanted to get out of South Africa and I knew that immediately because there is so much trouble with apartheid. I just knew there was no future in the country. My attitude was very different. I was using for what I could use it for and not trying to please them and conform.
LH: So you just up and and left South Africa.
I think you get to that age where you finish school, and you think ok – You sit on top of a mountain and you think what’s out there – and I thought I have to get out of South Africa.
I had been to London before to a disco dance competition and felt so comfortable. And I immediately recognized Europe and that I wanted to stay in Europe. I felt more sort of Portuguese and I could identify with living life in Europe more and felt like it was much easier. It was much more conducive to what I wanted to do. I felt the inspiration. I liked the feel of the big city. I felt there was immediate information. Not so far away from what is happening in the world. I like to be where the heart is beating.
LH: What do you do for fun.
AP: For fun???? (as if this were a novel concept to him!)
LH: You know, like when you are not working – you have something fun to do?
AP: I do movies, a lot of movies.
LH:Go to them or make them?
AP: I go to them – I’d love to make them. The thing I like to do when I am not working, the thing I try and do is choreography. I would like to go into choreography.
So like just before this period of work , I had a week where I explored a different idea every single day. I got all these ideas I wanted to try out. So I tried each one out, like a little snippet of it. Just to see if I liked that idea or that one or that one.
I really like to watch dance. A lot of dancers don’t actually watch dance … but I think you have to keep an eye open to what’s going on.
When I was at London Contemporary dance school, to make money I used to be the camera operator for something called the Video Place where they document everything going on at the Place Theater – which is where the first time I saw AMP.
I watched them a lot. It was a HUGE education especially to film it (AMP’s dance). Because it was edited live you had to follow – you have to almost know what is going to happen – so I got to understand the way things worked structurally as well as theatrically. I saw a lot.
Even as a kid I was always making up things in my head dance-wise. So I get very inspired by – sometimes I like watching something bad because then it gives me hope. Because you really have to think of the audience. I am not a very big fan of very abstract work. And I think when I see something very abstract and so unconnected to any kind of human emotion, it kinds of gives me hope that there is still such a long way to go with dance. With AMP, it really is like a new form of language. Because there is so much storytelling.
LH: So, when you see something bad you think to yourself perhaps you can make something better?
AP: Oh completely. All we can do is try to move people. And make them laugh, or make them cry or make them think or make them feel. But to just have the attempt to make it just like nothing, to make the human body just structural, just shapes – well then I would rather go look at architecture.