Fatima Ndoye, interviewed by Sedera Ranaivoarinosy
Génération A – Le Lab: behind the scenes, part 1
At Spring Forward 2022 in Elefsina, the first edition of the Startup Forum took place, gathering emerging dance presenters from all over Europe to discover the festival and discuss what the stakes were for dance curation today and tomorrow. Following the intense four-day programme, the participants were invited to propose a curatorial project featuring Aerowaves artists in order to gain support for its implementation. Fatima N’Doye was one of the three presenters selected to bring her project, Génération A – The Lab, to life.
Génération A – The Lab, bridging Africa and Europe
Fatima N’Doye is a Swiss-Senegalese dance curator and artist based in Paris. Alongside Alioune Diagne, she is also the artistic co-direction of Génération A, a festival dedicated to showcasing choreographic talents from Africa, launched in 2017 at Théâtre Paris Villette. After two successful editions of the festival, the opportunity presented by the Startup Forum’s call for projects was the perfect way to push her cultural exchange work further.
“Génération A – The Lab will take place in Saint-Louis in Senegal in June 2023. It’s kind of a big artistic meeting between three companies from three different African countries and three companies or artists from three European countries,” she explains. The six companies will work together for five days just before the Duo Solo Danse festival, where the European companies’ work will be presented. The African companies will have their works shown in France during the next edition of Génération A in Paris in 2024.
“The idea was to work one year beforehand in order to best support them. The team at Théâtre Paris Villette will come in at this point with support for production, communication and light creation. We really want to support and work alongside these three projects so they are stronger when they come to Paris as they will have a budget, a teaser, lights, etc,” N’Doye goes on. “This is the goal for the works in Africa. They are currently at different stages of development. Therefore, the choreographers are very interested in meeting with other people and sharing with a community of dancers.”
Among the choreographers that will take part in this programme are Loulou Véronique and Smaïl Kanouté. The first is from Ivory Coast but lives in Niamey, Niger. She was showcased in Génération A in 2021 and is currently working on a solo. The second lives in France and was chosen as an Aerowaves artist in 2022.
Initially, N’Doye had hoped that all the European artists would themselves be from the African diaspora, but that proved more complex than anticipated. She spoke with programmers all around Europe to find the right matches but few could give her any names at all. “It was a real issue for me and at one point, I was really wondering if it was the right angle and the right reason. Because, of course, I would never want to choose pieces or artists because of the colour of their skin”, she said.
“I spoke about it a lot with Elisabetta Bisaro of Aerowaves, with Betsy Gregory of the Startup Forum, with Théâtre Paris Villette also, with artists from different countries in Africa to have an idea of what they need. In the end, I decided that the best bet was desire: the desire to take part in this kind of project, to work with others, the desire to show their work in a festival in Africa. I don’t want to programme a piece for any reason other than the fact that I deeply believe in it.”
An artistic project with a mission
N’Doye is seeking change. “I remember when I went to a festival in Africa for the first time, in 2011, in Saint-Louis at Duo Solo Danse. I was so sure that something very powerful was happening there in contemporary dance; it was so different from all the things I’d seen then, and even now, on stage in France,” she remembers.
She also noticed that on the French stage, the same few African male choreographers are seen time and again. “To me, it was impossible that they should be the only figures to represent 54 countries. I saw some pieces at Duo Solo Danse and couldn’t understand why they weren’t playing somewhere close to where I lived.”
She goes on: “To me, Génération A – The Lab is just the next step. Génération A in Paris seeks to make the works travel and circulate. It’s the only way to get a piece to truly exist: to make it circulate, for artists in Africa but also artists in Europe. Take Smaïl Kanouté, for example. He works a lot in France, and in the next year, will work a lot in Europe. He really wants to show his work in Africa but it’s difficult because very often the festivals don’t have the money for that.”
She also believes change needs to happen in the nature of relations between Europe and Africa. Génération A – The Lab will be a first experiment in that direction. She wants to ensure richer exchanges are created. “Inviting an artist to come to show their work in France is great – but what do we do after that?” she asks.
“It’s touchy. Exchanges are cool but an exchange has to involve being on an even playing field. I’m happy about the recent interest in Africa but if you look deeper, how many times can we speak about a real exchange? For me, it’s equally as important for Loulou Véronique to work with Smaïl Kanouté for example, as it is for Smaïl Kanouté to present his work in Saint-Louis, even if his work is showing in places like Chaillot in Paris. Both of them are young, they have two pieces, I’m sure they have something in common to share also.”
An ambitious vision
Now that the aims are clear and the artists are chosen, N’Doye is about to get into the nitty-gritty of organisation – including figuring out whether it’s feasible to include one more Africa-Europe pairing. Also, she plans to be “more specific about what will happen during the five days of the Lab in Saint-Louis as it’s not just about artistic work. The six current companies will be there and will stay for the festival after. We are thinking of organising training sessions every day. We’d like every artist to propose a session for every day. Maybe we can imagine that they will be open to all the dancers in the region? Or maybe it’ll be just for the artists in the lab? Those are the kinds of questions we’re trying to answer right now.”
One thing is certain, none of this would be happening if it weren’t for Aerowaves. “My experience in Elefsina was an incredible opportunity for me to speak about all of that: contemporary dance in Africa, why it’s so important for me… After many hard years of not having my voice heard much on that topic, I was very touched,” she recalls.
“It was one of the first times I’d really seen interest and curiosity from different partners. For that, it was very new for me. This idea of circulation was thanks to the Startup Forum because I’d never imagined doing something with artists from another country but France, for example. It’s a kind of an opening of the chakras!”
Génération A – The Lab, at Théâtre Paris Villette, Institut Français in Paris (as part of the follow-up to Saison Africa 2020), Duo Solo Danse / Le Château