Dancing Through It
A new dance form for Africa is born of the pain of genocide.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Dramatizing genocide seems like courting professional disaster. How can an artist take on this subject and not risk scaring an audience away?
Yet this is exactly what Senegalese choreographer Germaine Acogny, doyenne of contemporary African dance and artistic director of Compagnie Jant-Bi, and Butoh-trained choreographer Kota Yamazaki from Japan, dared to do with Fagaala (Genocide).
Fagaala, Jant-Bi’s new dance theater piece, will be performed for the second time only on Tuesday, Feb. 3, at CSU-Monterey Bay’s World Theater. Jant-Bi’s eight male performers will dance and sing and recite in Wolof, (a Senegalese language) French, English, and Japanese.
The immediate impetus for Fagaala was Boubacar Boris Diop’s novel Murambi, the Book of Bones, a fictionalized account of the early ‘90s genocide in Rwanda. While the horrors of Rwanda—and Bosnia and Cambodia—still haunt many people’s sleep, unfortunately such tragedies are not unique.
“This murdering madness has existed since the dawn of times,” says Acogny. “But in order to reduce this violence, each one of us must fight against fear, hatred and vengeance, as those feelings can easily invade us.”
Butoh, the introspective contemporary Japanese performance genre in which Yamazki works, examines that human potential for destructive chaos. The dance, whose name means “dance of darkness,” was born of another catastrophe: the destruction of Japan and much of its traditional culture as a result of the second World War.
Fagaala may disturb and challenge but, says Acogny, “it also shows a tiny light of hope, ready to become a sun ray.”
Probably no African choreographer alive is more qualified than Acogny to undertake this delicate and ambitious project. She has been working for more than 20 years on creating an indigenous contemporary dance language that speaks for a modern Africa.
African dance is still associated with the enactments of theatricized rituals that travel the globe in large national companies such as those of Senegal, Guinea and the Congo. The dances are often beautifully presented; they preserve traditions, and they are colorful.
But Africa also has modern cities with millions of inhabitants, multi-cultural populations, and young people who see themselves reflected more in hip-hop than village-based initiation rites. Acogny herself didn’t discover African dance until she was an adult. While studying Africa’s many ethnic groups, she came to the realization that the onslaught of Western mass culture may indeed threaten the survival of traditional dance, but what was also needed was a new language.
“At a time,” she has written, “when some speak of a return to roots, we take a different road. The artistic movement into which I insert my own work, even though it is deeply rooted in popular traditions, is not at all a return to roots. On the contrary, we pursue a way that is altogether different and resolutely urban, reflecting the modern context within which so many us, Africans of our time, must live and move.”
Fagaala: The Human Tragedy of Genocide—Rwanda and Tomorrow? is performed Feb. 3 at 7:30pm at the World Theater at CSUMB. 582-4580.