Chester Martinez Dances Through Life
Chester Martinez is a performer who expresses himself most regularly through dance. During a tumultuous childhood, movement became his saving grace and catapulted him onto the world stage dancing in Honey 3 alongside Cassie and touring the UK and the States as a dancer for FKA Twigs. Back in Cape Town he hopes to elevate all dance to the point of reverence currently reserved for classical styles. “I have a lot of work to do,” he says. “There’s so much that needs to be done for dance in South Africa and I want to do my part. I want to show people where a dancer or a movement artist can go.”
Through his own successes he aims to be an example to other young South Africans of what’s possible. “I didn’t come from wealth or financial means but I had unwavering commitment to myself and my journey and my purpose and what I am here to do on this planet,” he says. “I came into a certain alignment where miracles started happening. When you understand this you are more wealthy than anything in your bank account. Your energy is a currency.”
We met up to talk finding your purpose and becoming limitless.
When did you first start dancing?
As a person of colour from a coloured community, dancing is a part of our culture. But structured dancing I started when I was 13. My mom used to be a ballroom/latin dancer at competition level. She was like Ginger Rogers, she moved with effortless grace like a queen – it was the most beautiful thing to watch her dance when I was younger. When I decided I wanted to do dance, I followed in her footsteps and started with ballroom and latin in Atlantis at a dance school under Miss Fatima who was my mom’s teacher.
Was there a difference in your life before dance and after dance?
There was a major difference. Before dancing, I had moved schools for the sixth time. The frequent upheaval, relocation and re-acclamation to my schooling and “home” environments really took its toll on me. By Grade 6, I became quite mischievous, seeking outlets for all my emotions in all the wrong places. I had started drinking. I became borderline depressed. Long story short, and not to sound cliché, but dance saved me.
How do you feel when you’re performing?
When I dance, I feel the most acutely alive. I feel like I, in relation to everything and everyone around me, make sense. My mind goes to a place beyond time and space. I am absolutely present and aware. I am completely connected to myself and everything around me. Some of my most profound states of awareness have been accessed while on stage. At its most profound I can only find comparison in the state of no mind talked about and taught in many eastern philosophies; a state aspired to and reached by Tibetan monks, zen masters, yogies and martial artists through meditation and other practices. Delivering a performance and being on stage is an accessing of my soul and sharing that.
When you choreograph, where do you get inspiration from?
In the past I would have said from music and everything around me. Now though, I understand and have a more conscious experience of my creative process. I, like any other human, am sensitive and receptive to many external energetic/emotional stimuli, sometimes consciously, other times subconsciously. I store this energy within myself like a battery, I then use the tools of music, meditation and thought to access this potential energy in order to create and express through movement. The styles or disciplines I use depend on my emotional state or the space I am occupying. Most frequently I incorporate jazz funk, voguing, whacking, contemporary and hip-hop based movement. My personal style is very fluid, always a fusion of multiple styles, something experimental and progressive. It as an extension and communication of my being and cannot be put in a box. For me it’s less about the dance style: about doing ballet or contemporary or vogueing and it’s more about talking through my movement. Movement is a language.
Is there a message or feeling you aim to communicate through your art?
Always, movement is a universal language through which I communicate my personal beliefs and truths. If I’m in a space that is very heteronormative and very binary then I make sure to showcase what fluidity is; gender fluidity through movement. I can move in a way that a female is expected to move and I can also do hyper-masculine. Even when I’m just dancing in a club, I’m educating people without words about what the reality is being gender fluid, being non-binary, being queer. It’s about communicating the complexity of the human being. We can be many, many things. And you can be something that doesn’t have a label. You don’t have to fit into the few options we’ve been given. We can be something new. We are creators, why are we limiting ourselves to things that have been created? You can create a new space, you can create a new path. And that’s what my artistry is all about.
What are the challenges and rewards of a career in performance?
One of the first challenges faced in the professional performance industry is the degrading reality of being looked at and subsequently treated as a commodity/object. In a high stakes, high risk, high performance and highly competitive industry, there is unfortunately not enough time or space for the reality of being human. There’s an expectation of always presenting your best self, but often only on the surface. If you aren’t well-rounded, grounded and self-aware you run the risk of completely losing yourself to the superficiality of this industry. Alternatively, when you connect with like-minded humans and fellow artists and are able to occupy/work in spaces where you are able to safely and authentically give birth to your art, there is very little on this planet that compares. Being the change you want to see in this world and inspiring others to follow their truth is another incomparable experience. Hearing and knowing that you are positively affecting, inspiring and touching the heart, mind and spirit of even one individual is such a profound affirmation of your existence on this planet. You cannot quantify such experience, which is why art is invaluable and why many people and artists themselves (another challenge) struggle to ever understand the value of what we do or create.
How did you come to dance with FKA twigs?
God, LOL. The Universe? Honestly. To this day I struggle to answer this question. The reality is that I met her on set of a Radox commercial which she creative directed, the only major commercial I have booked and shot in Cape Town to date. A couple of months after shooting the commercial Twigs emailed me, then her assistant talked about an interest in having me on tour with her. Her manager then checked whether I was ready for the reality of London and if I was going to be worth the resources spent to get me there. Then, on June 22nd 2016, I landed in London and started rehearsals to go on tour with FKA twigs.
What was that experience like? What did you learn during that time?
In all truth, it was the most transformational, challenging and enriching experience in my life thus far, second only to my mother’s suicide. I learnt too many things to mention, but above all, I learnt that there is an infinite resilience, potential and capability within the human that when accessed can support you in getting through experiences beyond your wildest dreams. Also that as Africans we posses a magic within us that is needed in rest of the world. We need to own this magic. We need to stop looking to the rest of the world for inspiration. We posses a raw potential within each of us that is in truth the most precious resource the African continent has to offer. By owning it, we reclaim our place and power in this world. We need not chase a first world reality to feel like we are progressing. We need nothing outside ourselves. Our personal truths when expressed, grant us the power to shape our reality.
What are you working on currently and moving forward?
My focus remains on personal development, artistic collaboration, extra-ordinary experiences and the evolution of my being through both my career and personal life. Always a student, sharing with my peers what I have learnt along the way.
Follow Chester on Instagram.
Interview by Alix-Rose Cowie.
Photographs and video by Lindsey Appolis.