“Dansons Maintenant”! A contemporary dance festival in Benin
- 2011: A photo exhibition that became a contemporary dance festival
- 2012: If the city was told to me
- 2015: African Record
“Dansons Maintenant !” was a major West African contemporary dance event in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Created and runned by the Zinsou Foundation, it was designed as a non-recurring festival and welcomed some of the great figures of African contemporary dance. Through performances, workshops, trainings and conferences, it contributed to the development of contemporary dance in Benin. A sponsoring producer, the Foundation enabled the creation of dance performances that would then be performed in France and around the world. Very concerned by the idea of keeping memory of its events, the Foundation recorded nearly all part of the festival wich then has video archives.
Until now, these documents were not available for publics. The foundation agreed to entrust a selection to Jaï Production, thus helping to provide the resources and content necessary to document the recent history of contemporary dance in Africa.
Through the 12 videos displayed here, with 9 others consisting in african choreographers interview’s excerpts - all belonging to the “Dansons Maintenant!” collection – appear the outlines of the African choreographic field strengthening, which has been evident for the past fifteen years, particularly in Benin.
Cover photo: Richard Adossou, in L’Essence de notre danse, Awoulath Alougbin, 2011. Production Zinsou Foundation.
© Léandro Carignano
2011: A photo exhibition that became a contemporary dance festival
A dance photography exhibition is at the origin of “Dansons Maintenant !” festival, which has taken place in 2011, 2012 and 2015. From April to June 2011, the Zinsou Foundation presents 37 photographs by French photographer Antoine Tempé, who has produced numerous portraits of African and Afro-American dancers and choreographers. The photos are displayed in 3mX3 size on 19 containers installed outdoors, in a public square in the center of Cotonou. Inside each container, a continuous program of videos dedicated to the different dance styles (classical, contemporary, jazz, tanztheater) as well as to great dancers (Sylvie Guilhem, Pina Bausch, Philippe Decouflé, Bill T. Jones) is broadcast .
For the exhibition events programm, the Foundation commissioned five choreographers, including two from Benin, for a 20-minute site-specific ballet, designed in resonance with the hung photographies, where the living body responds to the body on display. Dances by Awoulath Alougbin, Marcel Gbeffa, Salia Sanou, Marceline Lartigue and Christine Bastin are performed wandering between the containers or on an outdoor platform.
Trader based in New York, Antoine Tempé, who practices dance as an amateur, launched into photography in 1989. "At the time, the easiest thing, he says, was to photograph dancer friends: easy models and natural. That’s how I started photographing dancers.” From 1999, he criss-crosses Africa and reports on contemporary dance companies and festivals that are developing in Africa. His images thus compose a testimony to the first generation of African choreographic artists emerging at the dawn of the 21st century.
“I came to photography through dance.”
Awoulath Alougbin, a Beninese dancer and choreographer who belongs to the first generation of contemporary dancers in Benin, is commissioned by the Zinsou Foundation for two outdoor performances : L'Essence de notre danse, for 12 dancers, performed at the exhibition opening, and a solo, which she performs on a stage installed in front of the main container.
“For me, contemporary dance and ritual dance are close. Ritual dancers have a way of improvising. In contemporary dance, there are times when you go into a trance."
Founder in 2008 of the Multicorps Dance Center in Cotonou, the young choreographer Marcel Gbeffa is ordered two performances by the Zinsou Foundation. A duo, Le Couloir sombre de l’amour, and a collective piece Sans regard, for which he takes over the entire exhibition space. Their bodies coated in kaolin powder, the dancers emerge from behind the containers, to the astonishment of spectators and passers-by, and move to the central floor. The mouvement of Zinli, a traditional dance from Benin – originally a funeral dance – in a slow motion is reminiscent of Daïrakuda Kan's butoh. The last part of the show is a solo of the choreographer who, in his work, explores the animal part of the individual.
French choreographer Marceline Lartigue lived in Benin for six years and leaded research on Vodoun ritual and dances. She has worked with dancers from the Conservatory of Ceremonial and Royal Dances in Abomey as well as with dancers from Cotonou who were trying out contemporary dance. As she had started a collaboration with Marcel Gbeffa, she naturally created a solo for him, following the Zinsou Foundation’s command.
“I really enjoyed working with Marceline. She did not impose a technique. Her work helps the dancer to open up, and leads him to creation through his imagination, his culture."
2012: If the city was told to me
Fuelled by the huge success of the exhibition “Dansons Maintenant !” in 2011 (more than 100,000 visitors), The Zinsou Foundation decided to renew the experience and make it a recurring event, without given periodicity, based on the co-production of performances. Antoine Tempé’s photographs were the matter of the performances commissionned by Foundation Zinsou in 2011, now it is the one of urbanity.
“From urban art to street art, from streets to public places, from Basquiat to Banksy… from graffiti bombs to taf stencils, films Faites le mur ! to Bomb it, from rap to break dance, from Hip Hop to urban culture, from Slam to DJ, from political message to social message, from the walls of SoHo to those of Brooklyn, let yourself be carried away by your inspirations; everything is possible."
With choreographer Salia Sanou as godfather, the event is hosted on the stage of the French Institute of Cotonou and includes two performances already programmed by the latter: the French Mathilde Monnier and the young Ivorian company based in Benin: Jasp' Cie.
For two weeks, Salia Sanou leads a workshop open to all which will give rise to a restitution entitled “Souvenirs from the rue Princesse”, on the Place du Champ de Foire, with around fifty dancers and more than 800 spectators. The festival is also an opportunity to bring to Benin the first dance floor, offered by Théâtre de la Ville (Paris) and which will then be donated to the choreographic center Multicorps.
While war is raging in his country, Ivory Coast, dancer and choreographer Abdoulaye Trésor Konaté takes refuge in Benin. With the two other Ivorian dancers from the JASP company, they develop a contemporary dance activity in Cotonou and have been involved in the training and emergence of a new generation of contemporary Beninese dancers.
A dancer in the National Ballet of Benin until 2004, Rachelle Agbossou, was part with Awoulath Alougbin of the SACAM collective which contributed to the development of contemporary dance in Benin. With her company Walô (which means “behaviour” in the Fon language), she has been involved since 2005 in the training of young dancers as well as in educational programs in schools and with teachers.
"Being an artist forces us to be an example for the youngest who watch us."
For her new Zinsou Foundation commission, Awoulath Alougbin calls on three urban dancers. Hip hop then just began to spread in Benin. Arouna Guindo, Kevin Adjalian and Aaron Tchibozo are among the first known Bboys in the country. The first one, which appears in the video, use to develop an acrobatic style that he will later articulate with research on the resonance between urban dances and traditional and ceremonial dances of Benin. Kevin Adjalian will create Djembé, the first hip hopinspired contemporary dance company in Benin, as well as the Street Motion School, a nomadic hip hop dance school, and She is on fire, the first female hip hop festival.
“Such a festival is a 24-hour stress. You have to manage problems such as as power cuts, tropical rains. On big shows, we called in rain cutters."
Aurélie Lecomte, director of cultural mediation at the Zinsou Foundation in 2012
Coming from the world of hip hop, former rapper Andréya Ouamba already had more than fifteen years of choreographic creation behind him when he accepted the commission from the Zinsou Foundation. Congolese, he settled in Senegal in 1999 and has been directing the Premier Temps company there since 2000, which the Beninese Marcel Gbeffa joined in 2008. For this creation, Andréya Ouamba embarks on the exploration of digital technology, although he confessed rather beeing afraid of the video on stage.
2015: African Record
In 2015, “Dansons Maintenant !" is part of the various events that take place for the 10th anniversary of the Zinsou Foundation and is intended to be articulated with the "African Records" Exhibition which recounts, through record covers and period photographs, the history of African music from the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The pattern of commissions is a compilation of 23 pieces of music.
Choreographers are invited to draw inspiration from a sound, the text of a song, the life of a singer, a musician, or even the visuals of the Exhibition: record cover, photographs of an orchestra or dance parties...
For this third edition, a free newspaper is published and delivered in ten points in Cotonou. From January 31 to February 8, 2015, a team of editors, photographers, illustrators and cartoonists, including Hector Sounon, an internationally known cartoonist from Benin, works hard to produce a daily newspaper which both announces and reports on the activities of the festival: dance workshops, dance photography, conferences, shows…. Godmother of the festival, Germaine Acogny who returns to her native land, ushers it with her solo prayer she dances on the Place des Martyrs, one of the central squares of Cotonou.
“The public is seated on the steps of the war memorial. Germaine chooses to do a solo without music. We are in the middle of town, with street vendors, but in my memory, there is not a sound. We are experiencing something exceptional."
Aurélie Lecomte, CEO of the Zinsou Foundation in 2015
Native of Benin, Marcel Gbeffa performed at each of the three editions of “Dansons Maintenant! ". The Dance Center he cocreated now registers almost a hundred students, leading him to move to a more appropriate space. Since 2013, the Multicorps Dance Center recognizable by its mauve walls and situed opposite the Place des Martyrs, in the Cadjehoun district, proposed dance classes and art residencies in its two studios, and has became a central point of choreographic development at the Benin.
As well as for Germaine Acogny, the 2015 « Dansons Maintenant ! » is an opportunity for Julie Dossavi to return to Benin, her homeland. In a way, this festival gatheres for a few days the Beninese dance diaspora in Cotonou! For Julie Dossavi, this return to her ancestors’s land induces a powerful emotion to her. She will put out the solo La Juju, performed the same evening with the Senegalese Fatou Cissé’s solo. Commissioned by the festival, La Juju will be taken up in a longer format and will be touring in France.
“Dancing in Cotonou was a great moment for me, because I've been trying to dance here for years... It was great to see people's reaction. I didn't think they would react like that."
After 6 years living in France, the Nigerian dancer and choreographer Qudus Onikeku decided to return to his country in 2013. His growing notoriety and his proximity – Cotonou is 120 km from Lagos – convinced the Zinsou Foundation to commission a piece from him for the 3° edition of the festival. The artist is then in full reflection on his position as a creator as well as on the place of the audience. Africaman Original is the first performance Onikeku created since his return to Africa. It opens a field of matters that the choreographer will go on exploring in his subsequent creations. Since 2015, this solo is still beeing performed all over the world. On September 30, 2022, it was given in Atlanta, in a gallery.
Le Journal, quotidien d’information de l’événement “Dansons maintenant!”, édition 2015
Le Journal, n°1, 31 Janvier 2015
Florent Mazzoleni, Catalogue de l’Exposition, “African Records”, Fondation Zinsou, Janvier - Juin 2015
Journal de l’Exposition “African Records”, Fondation Zinsou, Janvier - Juin 2015
Also in the collection “Dansons maintenant !” :
Patrick Acogny's interview, 2012
Richard Adossou's interview, 2012
Awoulath Alougbin's interview, 2012
Marcel Gbeffa's interview, 2012
Andréya Ouamba's interview, 2012
Germaine Acogny's interview, 2015
Julie Dossavi'sinterview, 2015