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.


Interview with Fernando Anuagn’a solo “Journey to the Future” presented at Danse l’Afrique danse! 2010. His interview is part of BT Dance Project’s Shifting Centers: Dance and Technology in and outside of Africa which highlights current contemporary African dance work throughout various countries in Africa.

Interview and dance video footage of South African choreographer Peter John Sabbagha and dancers of The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative that performed an excerpt of “Deep Night” at the Danse l’Afrique Danse 2010 in Bamako, Mali.

The dancers are phenomenal and Peter addresses South African contemporary dance, HIV, sexuality, race, and apartheid in this short interview. This work integrates video installation onstage and Peter addresses this in his interview.

Danse l’Afrique Danse in Bamako, Mali 2010

Danse l’Afrique Danse is a platform for African contemporary choreographers- emerging and established. It is a meeting place for choreographers, dancers, presenters, programmers, cultural workers, researchers, and local contemporary dance audiences. It is a competition and launching platform for “new” choreographers where three winners have a pre-programmed tour in fifteen African countries and a European tour.

The 2010 Danse l’Afrique Danse was full of rich performances and exchange. There were over fifty performances- both for concert stage and site-specific works in the Bamako streets. The work ranged from highly physical dance theatre to contemplative installation works; all were engrained with social, personal, and political commentary and messages- at times abstract, at times very specific.

There were panels that discussed the now and future of African contemporary dance as well as feedback sessions for the younger choreographers presenting work. In the evenings we gathered at a local Bamako gathering spot, Rue Princesse to talk, share food, listen to live Malian music, and witness installation projects. The days began at 10am and ended at 4am.

As an America-based choreographer who has attended numerous festivals on the continent, I noticed a larger American, European, and African programming presence than previous years. There is a continued growing interest for contemporary art in Africa. Financing for the Festival came from the French government (Cultures France), The Mali Ministry of Culture, PUMA, and several other organizations. The judging panel consisted of three Africans and four Europeans. There was dialogue amongst the artists about the pros and cons of a contemporary dance competition and the European financing of an African dance competition.

This blog is a continuation of the trace of the powerful and important contemporary dance created by choreographers and dancers from the African continent. We have posted here short video excerpts “traces” that highlight excerpts of work from the Festival.

Respectfully submitted by: Esther Baker-Tarpaga

Part of the Shifting Centers experience is focused on contemporary African dance; yet, in conjunction with this objective, the project is also focused on issues of accessibility, technology, and overall resources available to choreographers and artists in Senegal, Mali, Kenya, and Morocco. Here is a short clip that addresses some of the cultural context we have experienced in Dakar, Senegal.

Photography and post by Kristen Jeppsen Groves

Trace from Dakar: Dance and Technology in and outside of Africa recently finished their work with D-Clic Danse, a dance and technology workshop directed by Andreya Ouamba. Check out our recent video highlighting activities explored in the workshop.


Check out a few interviews with dancers participating in Atelier AEx Corps Dance Workshop, directed by Andreya Ouamba. We are gathering information about how dancers and artists are using technology to increase accessibility and communication between artists as well as to create new collaborations using technology readily available to dance artists in Senegal.
photography and post by Kristen Jeppsen Groves


Dakar, Senegal:

Video from Ateliers Aex Corps in Dakar, Senegal. This video highlights interviews with choreographers and workshop director Andreya Ouamba in addition to footage with dancer participants in the workshop. This is the fourth edition of Ateliers Aex Corps.

Coming soon is a video of dancers interviews/footage and what types of Internet communication many of the dancers are using.

Written Quote from Andreya Ouamba Atelier Aex Corps Goals:

“Atelier Aex Corps is a project which aims at strengthening the training of the dancer by inviting him to open his mind at new ways of dance expressions. This initiative, which is not new for certain artistic circles in Senegal (Toubab dialaw with l’Ecole des sables), is on the other hand new for the dance community of the city of Dakar. Artists who want to experiment, dancers who have questions such as: understanding how to move their body for a better use, and how to place their body into the space or how their moves and use of the space could be understood…

This project is a journey which is going to take place over three years. A group of 10 dancers is selected to follow each workshop. The duration of the program as well as the restricted numbers of participants will allow a good follow up of the evolution of the dancers. The previous dancers will be first and foremost invited to participate to the following sessions. At the end of every session, the participants are encouraged
to present a personal project. This project can be the beginning of a choreographic construction, a works in progress or an accomplished piece.”

By: Esther Baker-Tarpaga copyright 2010

*Dedicated to the strength and dance of the late Beatrice Kombe (1972-2007) from Ivory Coast, Madrice Imbujo (1975-2006) from Congo Brazzaville, and Souleyman Porgo (1972-2006) from Burkina Faso.

Contemporary Dance: Africa
Dialogues De Corps Burkina Faso 2004

“I did not study at a school. I developed myself from what I have, from what I live, from my childhood, from the life surrounding me. I live in a society that is hard and I choreograph what I live. Around me there is poverty and difficulty. I am shaped by the society in which I live.”- Beatrice Kombe, Ivory Coast- Director of Compagnie Tche Tche (Kombe 2004)

“I would like to tell all the dancers of the world. Dance is a job like any other. It is something that you must prepare for the present and the future. When we are dancers we must receive and share. It is up to us to show that dance is something to be respected and it takes work to dance. We must share it with other people give people the courage and desire do it.” –Madrice Imbujo, Congo Brazzaville- Dancer in Studio Kabako (Imbujo 2004)

Beatrice Kombe and Madrice Imbujo are part of a generation of powerful, creative, and influential contemporary choreographers born in Africa. In the past twenty years throughout West, South, Central, North, and East Africa, contemporary dance has been taking root, expanding and diversifying movement innovations and choreographic work. Dance festivals are annual events in many urban centers on the African continent and Africa-based dancers and choreographers are touring the world stages to present their choreographies. The contemporary dance movement or “Movement (R)evolution ” is taking place in festivals and exchanges in capitals such as Dakar, Ouagadougou, Yaoundé, Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Tunis.

Choreographic Cosmopolitanism
“At first we had 60% of the dancers coming from Burkina. Today there are dancers and companies who come from all over Africa and the world. We are interested in continuation and remain aware of what happened before and what will come in the future. The strength of Dialogues De Corps is not only dancers that come from Africa but also dancers that come from everywhere in the world to show their choreography and participate in the workshops.” (Sanou 2004)

Philosopher Anthony Appiah uses “cosmopolitanism” to describe a moral manifesto of how contemporary humans exist together and how human dialogue across boundaries is inevitable (Appiah 2006). Choreographic “cosmopolitanism” is prevalent in the former French colony Haute Volta, now known as Burkina Faso, which translates to “the land of people with integrity.” At festivals such as Dialogue De Corps companies and teachers from many different backgrounds influence each other through an exchange of styles, traditions, and dance cultures. Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro are amongst the many African contemporary choreographers leading the way for developing cross cultural, intercultural, and development in the arts both locally and globally. Founders of Dialogues De Corps Dance Festival, choreographers Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro are from a generation of Burkinabe artists shaped by their family and school educations, their early traditional dance and theatre trainings, their participation in international choreographic exchanges, and the ethical ideals set in place by former Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara. Sankara’s revolutionary leadership for an Africa not dependent on France, influenced an entire generation of youth to take their future in their own hands.

Salia Ni Seydou and Dialogues De Corps 2004 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Dialogues de Corps is a bi-annual Festival and Choreographic Meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro of Companie Salia Ni Seydou founded Dialogues de Corps in 2000 to support the emerging contemporary dance movement in Africa. Dialogues De Corps translates as Dialogue of Bodies, which is a meeting site of intercultural and cross-cultural dance exchange. The meetings consist of two dynamic weeks of evening performances, professional dance workshops, dance films, and colloquiums with participants from all over Africa and selected foreign countries. Dancers from different countries move, sweat, perform, and share meals together.
“I think this festival has a lot of future to open towards the world. The festival is dynamic. We arrive in the festival and we are taken in because we are not only audience or performer but we are also activists and artists of the festival.” (Sanou 2004)

Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro grew up performing traditional dance and theatre. Seydou Boro was born into a family of artists and in 1994 he starred in the film “L’Heritage du Griot” (Heritage of the Griot) based on Malian King Sundiata Keita’s life. Salia Sanou was a student and dancer in Burkina Faso’s second largest city Bobo, renowned for its richness in arts.
“I began my dance career in Bobo-Dialasso and I wanted to be an artist but I put my studies first. After school whenever I had free time I danced. School remained a priority for my family and I. My conscious choice to make dance my profession came through meeting certain people like Alassan Congo , Drissa Sanou, and Mathilde Monnier. I participated in Mathilde’s project ANTIGONE, which permitted me to meet other people and work with Seydou Boro. Thanks to Mathilde, Seydou and I had a project in common and it reinforced our complicity. It was a natural process for us to begin our company Salia Ni Seydou, to found Dialogues de Corps Festival, and now to construct Burkina Faso’s first Center for Choreographic Development. I did not know that one day I would dance or even live in France. When I began to work with Mathilde I stayed in the moment and things progressed quickly. I tried to listen to my body to respond best to any situation that presented itself.” (Sanou 2004)

Salia and Seydou established their own company Salia Ni Seydou in 1995, which began to tour internationally with its first big production “Le Siecle des Fous” (The century of Fools). While they toured their own work and offered workshops wherever they went to dancers from around the world, they continued to work with and train young traditional dancers in Burkina Faso. Salia choreographed numerous works on “Les Bourgeons du Burkina,” a youth dance and music company founded in 1987.
“As young choreographers we knew how to use our potential and take advantage of opportunities. When we created our company Salia Ni Seydou there were dance conferences and competitions, such as that in Angola and we presented our work and it was well received. This success continued yet we did not think that international success would arrive as early as it did. Success did not destabilize us, rather it made us realize we had something important to defend and share. Creating DDC was a necessary step. Seydou and I created this festival in Burkina to give opportunities to Burkinabe dancers. We did not wait for Burkina Faso’s Minister of Culture to initiate. We did it ourselves.” (Sanou 2004)

Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro’s influence is exponential on young choreographers through Dialogues De Corps and more recently through the founding of the Choreographic Development Center. During the December 2006 Dialogue de Corps Festival, Salia Ni Seydou and their guests inaugurated Burkina Faso’s first National Center for Choreographic Development- Centre de développement chorégraphique La Termitière (CDC). It was the first year that the major performances took place outside of the French Cultural Center (Centre Culturelle Francais), which is run by the French government. The new CDC is amongst the first Centers for Choreographic Development in West Africa which was built on land donated by the Burkinabe government and is run by the Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro and the members of their administrative, artistic, and technical team. Several Burkinabe artists I spoke with during the festival were very proud to have their own independent space ran by and for artists from Burkina Faso, as one Burkinabe choreographer mentioned to me “This inspires me to one day build my own dance space in my neighborhood.”
“Young artists who are working on their first choreographic piece are able to see new work, meet more experienced choreographers and they exchange with older artists who are well known who have been choreographing for a long time. It inspires the young choreographers. One of Salia and my principal objectives is to help this young generation.” (Boro 2006)

Centre Development Choregraphique La Termitiere
“For the first edition of Dialogues De Corps there was a small audience. If you compare the first year’s audience to the fifth there are more people and this is encouraging. Each year our audience grows…. If you look back seven to ten years ago, people in Burkina Faso did not even know what contemporary dance is. Today people talk about it.” (Sanou 2004)

Located in a popular neighborhood called Samandin, the new CDC is a revitalization of an urban space that previously consisted of a run-down cement outdoor amphitheatre and an open field dissected by dirt roads and strewn with discarded plastic bags. Freshly painted, the new CDC has a large indoor black box theatre space, offices, dorms, and an outdoor performance area. Throughout this year’s festival many local youth from Samandin attended free outdoor concerts, site-specific improvisations, and performances. Several Samandin residents said that they sense a change will take place within the neighborhood because of the new artistic center. CDC administrator Esther Ouoba declared “CDC will not only present cutting edge choreography from Africa and around the globe as well as run international workshops and residencies to help develop contemporary dance in Africa, but it equally wants to give back to its’ surrounding neighborhood and communities” (Ouoba 2006).
Several hours before the festival began the technical team was putting the finishing touches of black paint and laying the floor. With the help of caffeine and cigarettes the talented technical and administrative staff worked tirelessly. Audiences filed into the 250-seat theatre equipped with a state of the art light and sound system. It was harmattan season and the red brown dust blew that off the Sahara desert floated in the air. The dust created a magical effect and feeling of intimacy as the stage lights illuminated the shadows and performers bodies onstage.

CDC Selected Performances in 2004
The CDC allows us to defend all the dynamics of the process of a creation. At the same time it is not about separating those who have more experience and less experience in different categories. We are together in the same pathway and in the same trajectory. Therefore young artists who are working on their first choreographic piece are able to see and meet and exchange and compare their work with older artists who are well known who have been choreographing for a long time. It gives a dynamic to young choreographers (Boro 2004).
Each night opened with three to six company performances. The themes of the choreographic work were diverse in meaning reflecting the individual and companies histories sense of place as a global and local artists and cultural workers. Thirty-one companies performed in three different locations around the city. Themes of immigration and questioning nationhood appeared in several works. Faso Danse Theatre from Burkina Faso utilized live rapping and an onstage Maquis to address stories of exodus dreams many African youth envision towards Europe and America and “those who crossed the barrier” to return to their native land. Dancing the physical effects of immigration, Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project from Burkina Faso/USA utilized chaos and stillness to portray the internal affects of immigration on the body. Company Chata from Tunisia rhythmically danced a “destiny deadened” with odd-job mans and living from day to day in contemporary Africa. Cie Wayo from Kenya was inspired by the writings of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, and asked the audience “do we belong to specific communities just because we are born in them?”
Societal injustices and environmental problems were important issues addressed in several companies work. Compagnie Ba from Burkina Faso pleaded for a “solution to the injustices and inequality that destroy African society.” Compagnie Conni-Dzing from Cameroon advocated for “love to combat hate, the sources of all wars and unhappiness.” Compagnie Corp’Art from Burkina Faso/Democratic Republic of Congo addressed the importance of water and how we must be careful with this precious resource. Nelisiwe Xaba from South Africa in her solo “Plasiticization” made use of comedy to deliver its message, exploring the many ways in which society uses plastic, from packaging to prophylactics.
Other individuals and companies performed the complexities of their cultural histories and the impermanence of capturing movement. Compagnie Teguere from Burkina Faso danced their “relationship to cultural heritage” and dedicated their performance to the late Souleymane Porgo. Compagnie Merlin Nyakam from Cameroon/France, painted himself in white clay and accompanied by a live didgeridoo onstage reflected on his origin within humanity. Ousseni Sako from Burkina Faso traced his internal scars through milk and mud representing the blood and land of his ancestors. Norma Claire from Guyana/France danced a haunting an elegant solo on roots and ancestral memories. Compagnie Vahinala from Madagascar danced a highly physical work about the body in space marks each instant of life. Mhayise Productions from Durban, South Africa told the story of a boy’s coming of age in a rural community. Compagnie TA from Burkina Faso in collaboration with a French visual artist, danced with paint onstage and created a visual masterpiece through the traces they left with their bodies.
Throughout the festival of performances there were two weeks of workshops. This year included individuals and companies from Ivory Coast, Morocco, Congo Brazzaville, Slovenia, France, Cameroon, Italy, New Caledonia, Madagascar, USA, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Netherlands, Benin, Switzerland, and Tunisia. In addition to the dancers who participated in the festival there were many contemporary dance “elders” such as Germaine Acogny and Alassaan who also helped inaugurate the new CDC.

Pan-African Roots and Routes
“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.” (Frosch 2007)

Respected elders in contemporary dance; Germaine Acogny, Alassaan Congo, Longa Fo Eyeoto, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser , Alphonse Tierou, and Irene Tassembedo have taught throughout the world and have shaped a future generations of choreographers. In the 1970’s they were amongst many dancers from all over West Africa invited to train at Mudra Afrique a pan African dance school founded in 1977 in Dakar, Senegal. Senegal’s first President after independence, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Belgian choreographer Maurice Bejart founded Mudra Afrique and Senghor appointed Germaine Acogny to assist in running the school. Individuals came from many countries to learn Classical, Modern Dance, and African Dance. President Senghor described the aims of and philosophy of school as follows: ‘Beyond the establishment of an inventory of Black African Dance Steps and movements, MUDRA AFRIQUE must absorb the steps and values of other dance forms in order to generate a new kind of Black African Dance that can be understood and appreciated by people of all cultures’” (Acogny 1994).
These individuals returned to their home countries and formed their own companies and schools teaching younger dancers contemporary and traditional dance techniques. They also crossed borders to teach and perform in Europe and America. They dispelled the singular perception of one “African dance” and they overturned the notion of “primitive,” which is a term many Europeans were calling African dance at in the 1970’s (Acogny 2006). They paved the dancing road for the many choreographers and dancers who followed them.
Mudra Afrique has since closed but Germaine Acogny and many of her contemporaries have gone on to become artistic leaders and choreographers locally and globally. Germaine Acogny established “Ecole de Sables ” in Toubab Dialaw Senegal, which is similar to Salia Ni Seydou’s CDC in the sense that it offers residency space, dance workshops for local and international dancers, and is a home base for her company Jant Bi.
Choreographers such as Germaine Acogny, Seydou Boro, and Opiyo Okach tour internationally and may reside in more than one country. Their work takes them to live in Paris, Los Angeles, and Berlin, for example. They are influenced by their own cultural traditions, their traditional dance mentors, their exchanges with many different African, European, and Asian choreographers and teachers, and their environments, which range from the natal village to urban city centers. Choreographer Opiyo Okach specifically addresses these shifts, migrations, and cosmopolitanisms of contemporary identity.
“In Shift…centre, as in previous work, I’m interested in the fabric of crossed cultural space as conceptual framework for choreographic inquiry; the unique ways of being and notions of identity shaped by conflict and contradiction, the wealth and diversity of viewpoints intrinsic to such spaces. How does a crossed culture context play on notions of corporeity, place and belonging: perception of physical and visual space. To cross divergent viewpoints and experiences I’ve chosen to work with artists of differing origins both in terms of culture, artistic discipline and sensibility; dancers and a video artist from East Africa, a scenographer, music composer and sculptor from France. The eastern coast of Africa by itself represents centuries of remarkably crossed geo-cultural time-space between African, Asian and Arabic worlds….’ (Okach 2006)
Many of Africa’s leading choreographers were offered scholarships to train in choreographic development centers in France, Belgium, and Germany. In addition, funding for their choreographic works is often distributed by European funding agencies such as Africalia and L’AFAA. Many of the African governments only provide up to a certain amount of economic support thus there is a dependency on outside funding. Thus African based choreographers apply for grants from European funding resources and also the presenters who are based outside of African can also support the tours of African dance companies. Beatrice Kombe does not view the “foreign” funding as a form of “neocolonization” but rather she sees her teaching and performing as a form of exchange.
There are those who do workshops in Europe because they want to learn something new. But I did not do any work in France. I believe in the work of exchange between people and countries and not neocolonization. It is important that we communicate: north south, south south etc. We are in world of communication and I think about this as exchange. It’s not in one-way direction, it’s a go and return. For example, students may come to my school in Ivory Coast and I also may teach at Universities in the USA. (Kombe 2004)

Many African choreographers are international. They are the present and future of contemporary dance, which is dance across borders and creating dialogue and exchange with dancers around the globe. In the following section several choreographers voices and images dance across the pages.

Authors Note:
I attended the first DDC festival in 2003 when my friends Fatou Cisse and Andreya Ouamba of Compagnie 1ere Temps were invited to perform their work. I was invited in 2004 to perform my own solo and then again in 2006 with my partner and our company Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project. While in Ouagadougou I participated in the workshops, attended performances, and dialogued with choreographers, presenters, and performers. This article is the result of several interviews with important choreographers and performers who are part of the contemporary dance scene happening in urban centers around Africa and International Festivals, such as this one in Burkina Faso. I have included interviews with the particular artists featured in many of the photos and most of the interviews I have translated from French to English. Several of the excerpts are the artist’s words on how she or he describes their choreographic work. My partner, Olivier Tarpaga helped with the interviews. He was an early member of Bourgeon du Burkina and a co-founder of Compagnie TA. We have our own company Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project now based in Los Angeles, California and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.


Acogny, Germaine. 1994. African Dance. Frankfurt, Germany: Weingarten.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 2006. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Frosch, Joan. 2007.

Okach, Opiyo. 2006.


Acogny, Germaine. 2006. Informal Discussion with author. Toubab Dialaw, Senegal:

Andriamoratsiresy, Ariry. 2004. Interview by author. Video recording. Ouagadougou,
Burkina Faso: November.

Boro, Seydou. 2006. Interview by author. Video recording. Ouagadougou, Burkina
Faso: December.

Coulibaly, Serge. 2007. Interview by author. Email correspondence. France/USA:

Hlatshwayo, Musa. 2006. Interview by author. Video recording. Ouagadougou,
Burkina Faso: December.

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Faso: November.

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Faso. December.

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Photo Copyright : Antoine Tempe

Photo by Steven Gunter


Think-Tank #1: ACCAD lab, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA

June 21, 2010

Esther Baker-Tarpaga held a face-to-face think-tank session with researchers and artists, Olivier Tarpaga, Norah Zuniga-Shaw, Vita Berezina-Blackburn, Matt Lewis, and Nicole Bauguss about the Shifting Center Project. From the hour and a half session the group discussed and brainstormed ideas about the following issues:

  • The Physicality of the Communication
  • Access: Who, Where, When, and How?
  • The Event
  • Points of Departure

The Physicality of the Communication: getting to the nuts and bolts.

The think-tank opened with the very practical question of how to manage technical issues and  challenges of digital communication between the two countries.  The group encouraged the research team to use ongoing networks that link Africa to the US.  Common elements used in Africa include: Skype, blog, email, video, web page, phone text, and social networks like Facebook.  Texting and videos via cell phones are also very popular and accessible.  Another easy way to share information is through screen-capture software; it is free and easily records digital information from desktops. The group also addressed issues of translation from English to French as well as how best to record a trace from each community.

Yet, even with these tools questions arose as to how to make the exchange of information tangible?  What are the physical elements that can be used to create dance?  Visuals, physical text, installations, topography, video, and sound were a few elements that offer fodder for movement creation.  As information is gathered and shared deeper issues about the definitions of network and technology emerged.  What is the current conceptual territory in regards to centers of information and networks?  Should those be interrupted, if so, how?  Ultimately, the group agreed Shifting Center project is about emergent taxonomies, sharing information, and discovering what is the significance of technology as a conceptual base for dance creation; The conceptual space of shifting centers.

Access: Who, When, Where, and How?

The think-tank discussed various points about access, ways of exchanging information, and new ways of using current networks.  A few ideas they discussed include:

  • Twitter – encouraging discussion and dialogue about dance in Africa

◦      Enable Facebook

◦      Use from phones

◦      Use tweets as visual installation or use in the conference

  • Wikified blog – a blog manager organizes, edits, and shapes an open access blog
  • Live Access through webcast: U Stream
  • Hashtag

One of the first questions to address is the available and type of internet access.  In Senegal and Burkina Faso internet cafes are the most common, wireless in common in most countries and Facebook is already in use, yet accessibility is still limited.  Once of the big challenges will be finding locations with strong internet connections that will allow for collaborative dialogue. At each location, universities with the fastest internet connections, such as I2, should be contacted as well as American Cultural Centers, French Cultural Centers, Goethe, US Embassy connections, etc.  Beyond internet, other technologies such as cables from computers to projectors as well as video conferencing rooms will be valuable tools during the project.

The combination of digital tools will allow a live web-stream as a performance medium.  The performer and audience may not be in the same location.  Discussion and dialogue about the performance may occur from locations beyond countries in Africa and Columbus, incorporating a more global community.

The Event

The conversation turned to the actual production itself.  With the available technological resources, what can be created?  The BakerTarpaga Dance Project mission is to address issues of boundaries.  The Shifting Center project hopes to highlight the economic and border challenges that prevent people from connecting to the larger world around them.  Students and communities need to access other areas of education and culture as well as have opportunities to meet and exchange when travel is not an option.  The group brainstormed ideas of how to overcoming borders:

  • Create and Curate – four students on OSU blog to four artists in Morocco or various locations. Through live feed, blogging, and texting students at OSU converse with African artists and may be given assignments and projects to fulfill.  Students may delegate the mode of communication, one on Facebook, one blogging, and another tweeting and determine the best form for collaborative research.
  • Create a score, model, or trial with specific conditions.  Collaborators in Africa and Ohio will create work based on trials.  Create responses and use responses as continual fodder for artistic creation.
  • Give specific instructions and actions via the web: NZ Shaw “turn six times”
  • Create video project for DTW’s tweet project
  • A week-long workshop dedicated to collaborative creation and learning via the web
  • Take or offer a dance class via the web
  • Audience exchange with choreographer’s from countries in Africa
  • Live-feed exchanges

◦      issues around time zones

◦      video image can be partial and disappointing

◦      what other elements besides a moving body can be live-streamed?

As ideas developed the next question arose: How do we make it happen?  The group agreed there should be some type of live element involved in the process or product.  The project should also have a traveling took kit: small projector, camera, tri-pod, and other recording tools to capture and collect various traces of the project.  The projector may offer tactile nature of dance and performance and allow crowds to interact not just with images but with sounds as well.

Digital sharing brought up many questions about how environment relates to meaning in regards to dance.  What is a meaningful communication related to dance?  What does dance feel like when you’re in Dakar, or Ohio, or Senegal? What is relevant to the choreographers? What are the dance ideas that work well with bodies from various locations? What elements are limited to the locale, i.e. air, humidity?  What is dance conversation in Morocco versus Mali?  What are the key words used for dance in each area? How will altered definitions change the meaning in various dance cultures?  Any ideas shared should center around the goal of shifting ideas, getting ideas to move between stationary locations.

Points of Departure

Near the end of the think-tank session the group discussed examples of other projects that have created works based on similar processes.  Locative Media Links connects participants via phone computer and guides movement scores, somewhat like a flash mob, but with specific goals to accomplish during the score.  This might be a launching point for a movement score that uses text messaging.  The score may be exploring certain public spaces, walking around on the street, or it could be narrative.

Another company Blast Theory from Rotterdam, UK uses recordings from participants’ daily experiences.  For example, a recorded description of a bike ride, or another may include  a short story from a person’s life.  The prompts are very well crafted and produce interesting material.  We may glean this idea and consider theatrically crafted prompts that may generate interesting movement for the masses.

Other ideas generated around this one concept: make playful use of what is and what people have.

  • Make use of GPS location; meet someone at this coordinate, speak with someone who is leading, using text messages.
  • Camera Phones; use photos
  • Send a text message to a number that everyone can access or have entrance to a system
  • Encourage comments/responses on blog posts; think of structures that encourage participation online.

As the conversation continued, think-tankers encouraged us to integrate the flow of ideas and to find a common language and interest.  As forms of communication are explored they encouraged us to consider what forms feel the most satisfying and meaningful.  In process-based research it is often only the product that is seen; how can the process be more transparent?  They encouraged us to think how the process can connect with audiences more than just through the final performance or product.

As with any research it is difficult to anticipate outcomes, and particularly with the ephemerality of dance, this becomes extremely challenging.  Yet, the process should offer something, it should add to the critical dialogue and begin the process of shifting centers of common products in dance to innovative and creative processes.

The conversation shifted to building networks and collaborations that can build conditions to address some of these issues. Norah will be incorporating her improv class with a group of dancers in Senegal; they may send movement scores to each other, use sound scores from various locations, or improv based on various conditions that are unique to the location.  Esther will continue to gather visuals, objects, and other collection items while in Africa: photos and posts will be updated every other day.  The research team in Africa will also be gathering opinions from artists:  What integrative projects are interesting or needed?  Where is dance relevant and what are audience’s responses?

Written by: Kristen Jeppsen Groves, Media Manager