The project Coupé-décalé is a piece of choreography in two acts.
In the first part, entitled I Am Not a Sub-culture, Rather A Gallery of Self-Portraits with A History Walking in Circles, Robyn Orlin creates a solo with and for James Carlès, a choreographer and dancer and the initiator of this project based on coupé-décalé.
The second part, On va gâter le coin ! is dedicated to a stage performance of coupé-décalé performed by James Carlès and his five dancers.
[The term coupé-décalé comes from a form of traditional dance from the Ivory Coast, the Akoupé, from the Attié ethnic group. Combining Congolese rumba, hip hop, Caribbean music and French folk songs, coupé-décalé appeared at the start of the 2000s in Paris in Ivorian communities.]
“Since the origins of the project I had wanted an artistic collaboration with a very experienced choreographer/director and one interested in ideas of otherness. I only came up with this project through dialogue, discussion and shared views. I really wanted to take as big a step back as possible from this societal issues that I know well and in which I feel very involved. It was only natural that Robyn Orlin was contacted and equally so that she agreed to throw herself into this project.
Act 1: Making the invisible visible...
For Act 1, after numerous discussions and workshops, Robyn Orlin chose to draw inspiration from my personal history (familial and cultural) to 'construct' the solo. The images are real, but the stories and characters are fictitious. The solo examines otherness in Europe (France), intercultural relations and issues of territorial legitimacy. What do we really know about 'Afro-Europeans'? (Afro-French?) How do we read them and their expressions? Do we find connections in our common (hi)stories, etc? These are just some of the questions that led us, with a great deal of humour and love, to this first act... The act is built around the SAPE (Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant Persons), and the character of the SAPEUR, as this is one of the fundamental points of coupé-décalé.
Act 2: 'Textepublic'/'Textecaché' (public text/hidden text) and polysemy...
In act 2, I wanted to put some real coupé-décalé dancers on stage, using their own codes of movement, dress, language etc. My travels and research into the social dances of African descendants caused me to discover the eminently political meaning of all these dances. They are born, develop and flourish in well-defined social and (geo-)political contexts. Our reading of their movements shows us the extent to which these dances are real traces or markers of our societal history (dissent/assent).
When I first encountered coupé-décalé, I didn't understand it. In fact, I was rather hostile towards it. It wasn't until several years later, after a discussion with young pre-teens from a school in Nantes, that I realised that something real was happening. I carried out some 'research trips' to French cities such as Marseille and Paris, followed by some time in the Ivory Coast. I discovered the 'dual language' of coupé-décalé performers. What is said in public or shown to most people is not at all the same as what is shown to the initiated. This process reminded me of the resistance dances observed in slave-owning or colonial societies.
On the other hand, I also noticed that the semantic field of coupé-décalé dancers is – entirely voluntarily – contradictory. Indeed, a single movement or gesture can have several different meanings.
It was this reality that inspired me to compose the quintet. The video images are real. Charles Rostand and I filmed them ourselves in Abidjan. Theywere then 'recreated' abstractly and applied to choreographic scenes. These images evoke the urban world, the maquis (a type of restaurant), the 'glo glo' (shanty town), women and the numerous projections made onto them, colonial history, and many other hidden readings to be discovered in coupé-décalé which the video image metaphorically evokes.
Acts 1 and 2 constitute the two sides of the same one card.
Updating: September 2014