A vibrant contemporary dance scene developed in the swift currents of urbanization and globalization in late 20th century Africa. Rooted in the National Dance Company movement beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, the scene was accelerated by international exchanges, and a range of national and Pan-African competitions, often levered by foreign—particularly French—investment. Far from reinforcing (or inventing) a status quo of tradition or nationhood, the fast-track artists who people this “movement (r)evolution” continue to reframe rapidly shifting relationships and identities as they create and perform in Africa and abroad. “Movement (R)evolution Africa” explores the emerging movement through the voices and performances of a selection of its trendsetters. The film is intended to expand and invigorate contemporary dance by illuminating critical innovations of African artists.

A realistic portrait of Africans who actively create the stories of their own lives is sorely lacking from many views of Africa. “Africa”—as portrayed by disaster-focused media—is populated by an ill-fated humanity consuming aid and contributing little in return. Familiar images include men, women and, mostly hungry children, engulfed by poverty, illiteracy, debt, desertification, HIV/AIDS, and political turmoil. A generalized numbness regarding African concerns renders invisible much African achievement. Meanwhile, a view of Africans artists as keepers of unchanging traditions further undermines full recognition of who African artists are today. Although the press may not promote the story of African artistic agency on its front pages, select continental choreographers render profoundly personal approaches with which to express their contemporary lives.

The continent’s new dance movement is small but varied and dynamic. It reaches, at this point, a growing cadre of fellow artists and interested audiences in Africa, Europe, and North America. Rooted in the National Dance Company movement beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, international exchanges, and spurred on by internal and international competitions, Africa’s new dance movement developed in the swiftly changing currents of urbanization and globalization of the late 20th century. Far from reinforcing (or inventing) a status quo of tradition or nationhood, contemporary dance grew with increasing diversity and youthful vigor in a response to internal and external artistic, cultural, and political influences. The movement has emerged in mostly urban hot spots, performing for, mostly, urban audiences. Rural audiences are increasingly exposed to the work through the efforts, for example, of choreographic centers such as L‘Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, or through such enterprising cultural movements as Festival Kaay Fecc which draws huge, diverse, and enthusiastic audiences in Dakar and beyond through ever-expanding networks and partnerships. As a form, contemporary African dance continues to upset and challenge multiple conventions and stereotypes, reframing rapidly shifting relationships and identities in its wake. Today the best of this scene unpacks a fresh set of perspectives on the inner and outer realities that Africans—and the world—face.

For example, the contemporary dance movement of the late 1990s included the creation of such leading-edge companies as the Ivorian all-women’s ensemble TchéTché, and the Senegal based Compagnie Jant Bi. Today, TchéTché’s performances continue to define a powerfully reconceived notion of womanhood through a hurtling, almost shocking physicality that denies any notion of subservience. Based upon a technique of breath and weight juxtaposed with a reinvention of the Bété motifs choreographer Béatrice Kombé learned in her youth, TchéTché’s work packs extraordinary physical power within the intimate parameters of breath-filled self-revelation. Other work, such as the dance theatre of Compagnie Jant Bi renders complex cross-cultural dance theater portraits of upturned cultural encounters, war, and alienation. Jant-Bi’s staging of racism and genocide has challenged the postcolonial gaze causing strong reactions in audiences and critics worldwide.

These exceptional artists see themselves as part of the whole world, not the “Third World,” and, while proudly African, refuse to be marginalized as “African Dancers.” They are artists who seek first to investigate and communicate their ideas, through dance, with the world. Germaine Acogny, founding mother of Senegalese contemporary dance, sums up the importance of the movement when she passionately states on camera, “(African) Contemporary dance is overturning the global concept of contemporary dance, and I sincerely believe that this is only the beginning…we are bringing a new breath to dance.”

With the support of the French government (AFAA), the biannual contemporary dance platform, Sanga: the African and Indian Ocean Choreographic Competition (also translated as Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean), held first in 1995 in Luanda, Angola, has now become a hothouse, however contested, for the development of the art form. The Fifth Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean was held in Antananarivo, Madagascar in 2003. That 2006 edition was set in Paris (2006) indicates the political tugging and conflicting notions of “ownership” accompanying the lighting-fast proliferation of this art form over the past decade. Europe has continued to provide the mainstay of touring for many of these companies. In fact, winners of the Sanga Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean are awarded a tour in multiple venues across Europe, and some in Africa. In 2002, Belgium created a celebration of African culture entitled “Africalia,” which featured a weeklong festival of African contemporary dance. The Montpellier Dance Festival, arguably one of the most celebrated dance festivals in Europe, presented a panoply of African contemporary dance in 2000 for the first time in the festival’s history. Rather than rely on the rarefied encounter of the (mostly, European) tour, a number of African artists and producers have worked to create infrastructures that support the recognition of African artists in Africa. Since the late 1990s entrepreneurial producers and artists have sought to develop viable dance festivals. Kaay Fecc Festival in Senegal, which met for the third biennial in June of 2005, Abok i Ngoma in Cameroon, Atour Africa in Benin with Koffi Kôkô, Dialogue des Corps in Burkina Faso directed by Compagnie Salia Nï Seydou, among others, provide platforms for performers and opportunities to build new African audiences.

How the film came about:
The 2000 Montpellier performance of Compagnie TchéTché was my original inspiration for the film. TchéTché’s performance so startlingly rocked me, including the unforgettable realization that I had never, ever seen women—anywhere—move with such daring and physicality, I was catapulted into a new area of the research I dance I had conducted in Africa and the United States for almost thirty years at that point (since 1973). In addition to Béatrice Kombé of TchéTché, I met other extraordinary artists, Germaine Acogny, Salia Sanou, Seydou Boro, Boyzie Cekwana, among them. Returning to the U.S. energized and inspired, I embarked on a mission to include this movement as quickly as possible in my work at the Center for World Arts at the University of Florida. I wanted to learn more, see more, educate the public and my students about this invigorating vision of Africa, and, mostly, ensure that the work become more broadly known, appreciated, and supported in the U.S. and elsewhere. In spite of some excellently coordinated work in New York (Inroads Africa in 1996) and Montreal (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse in 1999), many students, scholars and audiences in the United States were, by and large, unaware of the developments of this art form. Americans’ lack of exposure coupled with prevalent notions of how Mother Africa “should” dance could make it difficult for such artists to show their work and to take part in the larger U.S. conversation about contemporary dance. Furthermore, economic challenges for artists and arts presenters on both sides of the Atlantic could seriously limit interaction, and since public performance and critical attention is key to artistic livelihood, both needed a foundation for growth. Finally, the xenophobic excesses of visa officers and new government regulations regarding immigration could threaten the most solid of artists’ contracts, particularly post 9/11.

Linking concerns about the American (near) tabula rasa regarding this work, with an opportunity to collaborate with U.S. presenters in creating a U.S. tour for the three winners of Sanga II, I decided to shape a scholarly conference/arts festival/documentary film featuring, in part, the prize-winning companies. I engaged diverse African artists and Africanist/arts scholars living in and outside of Africa interested in positioning African contemporary dance in a context for discussion and examination, and created an open call for papers, as well. UA Presents of University of Arizona, 651 Africa and Lisa Booth Management in New York, and University of Florida Performing Arts, and Center for World Arts, partnered to create the first US tour of the 2001 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners of Sanga II: the Fourth African and Indian Ocean Choreographic Competition – Rary (Madagascar), Konga Ba Téria (Burkina Faso), and Sello Pesa (South Africa). If the artists had won a pan-African competition and had subsequently, and successfully, toured 26 venues in Africa and Europe, the work would surely provide a valid example of the companies’ own individual aesthetics, and provide an indication of the aesthetic of the competition, as well. Would the work mean a revolution in the sense of totally new, a break with what had come before…or an evolution unfolding from the vast (if under-studied) history of dance that embodies the continent…or was it to be both, as the etymology of Movement (R)evolution suggests? Revolution or evolution—or both—the form could provoke new dialogue and interaction among artists and their audiences. While co-presenters and I believed that the form merited increased attention, now U.S. artists, scholars and audiences—often distanced from global developments in the arts—could decide for themselves. Thus a conference/festival/film was born.

In fall 2003, I also met my co-director and editor Alla Kovgan. Together with Ken Glazebrook, Alla had co-directed and edited the documentary “African Dance: Sand, Drum and Shostakovich” that premiered in New York at Lincoln Center in January 2003. She is a filmmaker and through her work on the earlier film was familiar with the subject matter. Jeff Silva joined the Movement (R)evolution team as the director of photography.

The film "Movement (R)evolution Africa" is dedicated to all those who look to Africa as a source of heritage and inspiration, and to all those who seek to understand dancemaking in the 21st century, and, most particularly, to the artists of the film who have told and danced their stories for history and for the future. Ultimately, Africa’s “movement (r)evolution” invigorates the world contemporary dance community, and, as Germaine Acogny advises us on camera, “…this is only the beginning.”

– Joan D. Frosch, Producer/Director
Movement (R)evolution Africa


© 2012 Movement (R)evolution
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