Choreographer and dancer Opiyo Okach is the director of Gaara Dance Projects. He works between Kenya and France and performs globally. This blog posting includes three interviews with him. Opiyo Okach speaks on his current choreographic projects “Territories in Transgression” and reflects on his previous project “Shift Centre.” In addition he speaks on the Go Down Arts Center, a thriving multidisciplinary arts complex, based in the Industrial Section of Nairobi.
Opiyo Okach- Director of Gaara Dance Projects speaks on his new research and choreography: Territories in Transgression. This video highlights his reflections on the development of this project and dance images from his new work “Border Border Express.”
Interview and dance footage with Kenyan choreographer Opiyo Okach, Artistic Director of Gaara Dance Projects. Opiyo Okach reflects on his project Shift Centre and contemporary dance.
Our meetings with Opiyo took place at the Go Down Arts Center in Nairobi, Kenya where he was an artist in residence for many years. We could see his influence with the next generation of choreographers who were organizing a festival of Solos and Duets at the time we were there; footage excerpts from Dance Forum-Nairobi Festival of Solos and Duets 2010.
Opiyo Okach also influenced the creation of this blog. The impetus for this blog project is from my ten years experience as a cross-cultural choreographer in Africa and North America and the work of African-based choreographers such as Opiyo Okach, who in 2006 said, “The danger that recurs today is that the centre should be situated in one place; a place that holds monopoly of truth, a place that proscribes right or wrong, a place that determines good from bad… Shift…centre… is not just a statement on the aesthetics of space, it is also about political and social reality.”- Okach, Gaara Dance, Kenya.
Opiyo Okach Bio:
Maintaining his place on the international contemporary dance scene Opiyo Okach divides his time & develops work between France and Kenya. Through a long term choreographic development initiative Okach has acted as a catalyst for new directions and perspectives in dance and continues to support the emergence of a new generation of dance artists in East Africa. Having received the ‘prix du Nouveau Talent Chorégraphiques SACD 2003’ Okach was awarded a ‘Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development 2005’.
Artistic director of the first contemporary dance company in Kenya Opiyo Okach remains the principle figure of the choreographic landscape of eastern Africa. The prize at the second Rencontres Chorégraphiques Africaines 1998, for the company’s first work – Cleansing, places him amongst the first of a new generation of choreographers from Africa.
Trained at the Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre in London Opiyo Okach
integrates dance in his work on his return to Kenya in 1995 and following research on traditional ritual and performance. During the same period he encounters the choreographers
Alphonse Tiérou, Irène Tassembedo and Germaine Acogny.
In I996 Opiyo joins Faustin Linyekula and Afrah Tenambergen to form the first contemporary dance company in Kenya, La Compagnie Gàara. With its creation, ‘Cleansing’, in which the mundane gesture of everyday cleaning gravitates towards violent purification; the company wins a prize at the Rencontres Chorégraphiques Africaines 1998. For the company Cleansing opens the door to the international scene (Montpellier Danse – France, MASA – Cote d’Ivoire, St Leu Danse – Reunion…). It also marks the beginning of support by principle figures of French dance such as Régine Chopinot or Mathilde Monnier.
From 1998 the Ballet Atlantique Régine Chopinot actively supports and partners the group through a series of residencies and choreographic exchange. In 1999, she supports, in collaboration with the Centre Chorégraphique de Montpellier, the company’s new creation, ‘Rituals of the Rock’, consisting notably of the solo ‘Dilo’ for which Opiyo Okach would become known in Europe. Between 2000 & 2002 Opiyo Okach lays the bases for a long time choreographic development project in Nairobi – Générations 2001, with the support of Ballet Atlantique Régine Chopinot, Association Française d’Action Artistique, Maison Française de Nairobi, Ford Foundation and the program Unesco-Aschberg Bursary for Culture. The project combines dancer training, residency programs, research and choreographic creation.
In 2002 the choreographic creation ‘Abila’ emerges from this project, nourished by collaboration between Kenyan artists of different disciplines and exchange with two European composers and a video artist. Premiered in Nairobi and at Ballet Atlantique and Centre National de la Danse in France, the creation is presented in 11 countries in Eastern, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region (French Cultural Centres, MASA), Iles de Danse in France and several European countries (Germany, Belgium and Italy) – a first for a company from the region.
Following its discovery at Plateaux de Biennale du Val-de-Marne 2001, the solo, ‘Dilo’ is noticed at Festival Avignon 2002 at the Hivernales. Dilo is based on improvisation and instant composition work, inspired by the mythology of nomadic ethnic groups in eastern Africa. The solo tours internationally to over 17 countries.
In 2003 the society of authors and dramatic composers (SACD) awards Opiyo Okach the prix du Nouveau Talent Chorégraphique 2003. In the framework of ‘Vif du Sujet’ the SACD commissions him to create a new solo for Festival d’Avignon 2003. His collaboration with Julyen Hamilton, the renowned improviser, gives birth to the solo ‘No Man’s Gone Now’ an instant composition work. Following cancellation of Festival Avignon 2003 and Festival Paris Quartier d’Ete ‘No Man…’ premieres at Centre National de la Danse in January 2004 and has since known international success (Soirées Nomades of Fondation Quartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Plateaux de la Biennale du Val-de-Marne, Aix en Provence, Nouvelles Strasbourg Danse in France, Drei Wochen mit Pina Bausch in Düsseldorf Germany, Fabbrica Europa in Italy, Fitheb in Benin, Festival of Dhow Countries in Zanzibar, Godown Arts Centre Nairobi…).
2004 is rich in new transversal collaboration, notably with choreographer Thierry Niang, hosted in residency in Nairobi. The project results in the duo, ’Free Figures’, presented in France at Festival d’Uzes, 3 Bis Aix and Théâtres en Dracénie. It also marks the beginning of collaboration with choreographer Emmanuel Grivet for the duo, ‘Accords Perdus’ created at Regards du Cygne in Paris November 2004. ‘Accords Perdus’ is subsequently presented at Centro Cultura de Matadero (Huesca Spain), Danse Bamako Dance (Mali) and Pôle Sud (Nouvelles Strasbourg Danse)…
Opiyo’s recent work, ‘shift…centre’, (creation 2005-09) touching on relationships of identity, space and perception is in the form an evolutive process in which each series of performances is specifically created. ‘shift…centre…’ premiered in Nairobi and has been presented in France – Francophonies de Limoges, Danse L’Afrique Danse Paris, Platform Danse Bastia, Theater der Welt – Germany and toured in Southern Africa and Brazil.
In 2007 Opiyo choreographed ‘Take it Away’ for Andreya Ouamba with the SACD/Festival
Avignon program ‘Sujet à Vif’
Opiyo is currently developing the choreographic project ‘Territories in Transgression’. The first work of the project ‘Border Border Express’ – a solo in collaboration with electro acoustic musician, Alejandro Olarte, and scenographer, J C Lanquetin – premiered at the Rencontres Internationales de Seine Saint Denis in May 2009. ‘Body Evidence’ – a solo from the project is in development. A work process of ‘Body Evidence’ was presented during residency at Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, San Francisco in May 2011. The quatuor ‘We don’t care what flag you’re waving’ – is also in development.
In September 2012 ‘The house that never walked’ a piece for 9 dancers from Africa and Europe produced by Steptext Dance Project premiered at Schwankhalle in Bremen, Germany.
Today Opiyo Okach is also artistic director of Gaara Dance Foundation – created in 2002 to consolidate the choreographic activity initiated in Kenya. Its activities include choreographic research, artist residency, choreographic exchange, support for creation and diffusion of work. Regional and pan African exchange such as the Dance Encounters (East African Dance Encounters 2003, Retracing Connections 2004, ‘Encoding identities’) initiated in 2003 are part of its mission. From 2011 Okach initiated a new dance development program – Performance Lab Nairobi – a collaborative process for contemporary creation. The third edition of the program involving 20 dancers/choreographers from different African countries – Chrysalides – is organinsed in collaboration with CDC La Termitiére, Ouagadougou and Ecole des Sables, Toubaba Dialaw.