New language and old forms
Kindly supported by Ginka and Jörg A. Henle
The dancer and choreographer Béatrice Kombé Gnapa belongs to the second generation of the African avant-garde and in 1997 founded a dance-troupe consisting only of women. Its name Tchétché (eagle) alludes to a ‘creative force which is high-flying and free’, faithful to its origins yet not to superfluous strictures, be they artistic or social. Its dancing has won many regional and international prizes for renewing African tradition.
In the stormy development of modern African dance in the 90s, Béatrice Kombé Gnapa played an important part. Like Salia Sanou, Seydou Boro, Sophiatou Kossoko and Opiyo Okach she belongs to the generation of West Africans who are proud of their African roots while appreciating the aesthetic ideals of urban and global culture. ‘A new generation of artists, who have grown up in modern African metropolises but are as influenced by traditional values as by international developments, embody a new image of modern African culture,’ wrote Johannes Odenthal in the magazine ‘ballet international/tanz aktuell’ (12/1999). He went on: ‘Europeans expect from Africans only drum rhythms and village roots, and young artists like Salia Sanou, Seydou Boro and Bé atrice Kombé react to these expectations. Their works show their concern about their identity, fragmented in various ways, and transcend the clichés of their own socialisation and their image in the eyes of Europeans. Their artistry draws on the seemingly endless riches of African performing arts (ibid).
Tchétché has avoided the cliché, still current in the west, of so-called regional dance-cultures in Africa. On their journey of exploration between American modernism, European reflection and African roots, choreographers like Germaine Acogny and Elsa Wolliaston often struggled against a call for the exotic, while occasionally exploiting it, but Béatrice Kombé has moved beyond it.
So far, her most celebrated work has been Dimi (1997/98), dealing with the inner conflicts of a generation familiar with social injustice, repressive morality and patriarchal structures. Faced by the prevalent violence of modern societies, Tchétché emphasises meetings, understanding and solidarity. Dimi is a compact dance-poem with only four dancers and two musicians. The potent and pliant language of motion, the organisation of space, the articulation of rhythm and the transitions of mood are all clearly and precisely planned to extraordinary effect. In its own way everything in the work is vibrant. There is nothing of the dry intellectualism of the western avant-garde.
‘Dimi’ means ‘shock’ or ‘sudden pain’, and this is indeed the work’s theme both literally and metaphorically. It shows complex meetings between individuals with all their longings, aversions and enmities, but it also shows intimacy and solidarity, doing so in a purely choreographic way. This involves the use of space, dynamics, quick footwork, rich detail and illustration. There is a tender embrace, a pas de deux and even a mimed eagle’s flight.
Much material taken from traditional regional dances cannot be identified as such by outsiders, but African critics praise Gnapas’ sovereign use of traditional local forms and rhythms like the gbégbé, the abodan and the boloi. Nonetheless, Dimi is never folksy. Indeed western critics sometimes yearn for more local colour and claim that the dancing is too theatrical and overt. But this verdict may be a little snooty, as if African choreographers had no right to shape an identity and intensity of their own, though this is now one of their main concerns. Even in western Africa - for instance in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso - history has not been handed down but is in the making. Personalities like Béatrice Kombé Gnapa, whose interest lies in women’s rights and sexual freedom, regional identity and social relevance, are helping it along.
Author: Franz Anton Cramer
Béatrice Kombé Gnapa is the daughter of a dancing master from Ivory Coast. Even as a child she was familiar with traditional cultures of movement in the region. Without having regular training, she acquired a professional knowledge of dancing between 1984 and 1997 as a member of several local troupes. She began with the Ballet de la Marahoné then moved to Djalem, Lakimado, Tenzo and N’Soleh. The first choreography by her was for Lakimodo in 1997. Together with Jean Guillaume Bridji Lébri she founded the Compagnie Tchétché in the same year and choreographed Dimi, then shown on the African dance-platform MASA (Marché des arts du spectacle africain) in Abidjan. Her choreography ‘Sans repères’ (1998) has been shown at the Festival International de Nouvelle Danse de Montréal in Canada and on other occasions.
Production / Performance,
Production / Performance,
Production / Performance,
1998 Prize at the Dance Biennial in Luanda in Angola for her dancing in ‘Corps actif’ with the ensemble N’Soleh
Prix UNESCO pour la promotion des arts (UNESCO prize for promoting the arts) for choreographing Dimi
Second prize at the 3ème Rencontres de la Création choréographique de l’Afrique et de l’Océan Indien in Madagascar for her choreography of Sans repères
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
The Third Body
(02 June 04 - 13 June 04)
(16 March 00 - 16 June 00)