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In Paris, the “Sacre” of African dancers


She is “the mother of African contemporary dance” and it is not without pride that Germaine Acogny watches dancers trained in her famous Ecole des Sables, in Senegal, being applauded in Paris in the Rite of Spring by Pina Bausch. Thirty-six dancers from the four corners of Africa, many of them from his school, present until the end of September a high-flying interpretation of the ballet to the famous music of Igor Stravinsky, programmed by the Théâtre de la Ville in La Villette (north-east of Paris).

The idea of ​​this Sacred African was born when Salomon Bausch, son of the eminent German choreographer and director of the foundation that bears his name, saw Germaine Acogny dancing in Brussels a solo by Olivier Dubois, My black chosen one – Sacre #2precisely inspired by the famous work. “He had also seen African dancers trained at the Ecole des Sables and found the level to be excellent. He gave me the idea of ​​giving them the Sacre », created in 1975 for the Tanztheater Wuppertal (Pina Bausch’s company in Germany), recalls the 78-year-old Franco-Senegalese choreographer in an interview with AFP. She was immediately seduced, believing that the theme of sacrifice and the rituals that define this work speak enormously to the continent.

Read the report: Article reserved for our subscribers Contemporary African dance is built at the Ecole des Sables

The Rite of Spring, originally created by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1913, caused an artistic scandal that has remained in the annals so much the work, imagined around the pagan sacrifice of a young girl, shocked by its avant-gardism. Among the many recreations, that of Pina Bausch figures in the pantheon of the contemporary repertoire. “When I first saw the Sacred at the Paris Opera, I said to myself: “It’s African!”remembers Germaine Acogny. This is the theme, but also the technique, with these tremors of the body, this telluric energy. »

Maurice Béjart’s “black girl”

Salomon Bausch and his team went to the Ecole des Sables, created in 1998 in the village of Toubab Dialaw, south of Dakar, by Germaine Acogny and her husband, Helmut Vogt. After a pre-selection, a hundred dancers from fourteen African countries came to the school to be auditioned and 36 were selected. “We opened up to all of Africa, we didn’t want to be just in our bubble at school”she assures.

After six weeks of rehearsals and transmission, they were ready for this show co-produced by the British stage of Sadler’s Wells… just before the pandemic hit in 2020. Salomon Bausch, who was on site with Malou Airaudo, a great interpreter of the ballets of Pina Bausch then had the idea, in the absence of a premiere, to make them dance in the sand, at dusk. The striking result gave rise to a video, before the actual show was filmed in Europe.

“When people saw the African dancers, they said, ‘Now Pina’s company can no longer dance the Sacred, This is another thing !” »smiles Germaine Acogny, who has created her own technique, based on the work of the spine. “It’s not just a lot of energy but an intelligence of the body. You have a different body and inner strength even when you’re just standing up.”assures the one that Maurice Béjart, who had opened a dance school in Dakar (now closed) in homage to his Senegalese great-grandmother, called his “black girl”.

The choreographer, who herself dances a duet with Malou Airaudo as a prelude to the Sacredbelieves that African dance, beyond traditional dances, “begins to take hold in certain circles in Europe, with more visibility”in particular with prominent choreographers: the Burkinabe Salia Sanou and Serge Aimé Coulibaly, the Nigerian Qudus Onikeku or the South Africans Robyn Orlin and Dada Masilo (who herself made her own version of the Sacred). “African contemporary dance stands out from European dance, that’s what’s good. I always said that we had to start from our traditions and not copy, stay what we are and we will be respected”she says.

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The World with AFP