Interview by Callysta Croizer
With “Génération A – The Lab”, Swiss-Senegalese dance curator and artist Fatima Ndoye brought her cultural exchange work between Africa and Europe to the next stage. Her project introduced a new kind of artistic meeting, gathering three companies from Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger with three Aerowaves companies or artists from the African diaspora based in European countries. Last June in Saint Louis, the artists dived in jam-packed ten-day programme of Génération A – The Lab, before having their work showcased at the Duo Solo Danse 2023 festival. Their next step will be the upcoming edition of Génération A in Paris in 2024.
So what has been happening since your last interview with Sedera Ranaivoarinosy?
The Théâtre Paris Villette teams, the Generation A – The Lab artists and I went to Saint Louis to participate in Alioune Diagne’s Duo Solo Danse 2023 festival, which ran from 21 to 24 June. Génération A – The Lab (the actual project supported by Aerowaves) took place ten days beforehand), so that all the works could be presented during the festival. We also invited two of my colleagues as observers, Sedera Ranaivoarinosy from Springback Academy 2022 and Tina Hollard from Startup Forum 2023, both with an interest in the contemporary dance scene in Saint Louis. And we were very pleased to welcome Anna Arthur from Aerowaves during the event. After Duo Solo Danse, the artists from The Lab and I parted ways and we won’t meet in person until the next festival, Génération A, coming to Théâtre Paris Villette in June 2024 – though we keep up with each other’s news, of course.
How did Génération A -The Lab go in June?
The programme was quite packed. Every morning would start with a dancer’s regular training session, where each dancer was invited to teach an open class. After that, the companies would take turns to work onstage under the eyes of another company. Then in the afternoon, we attended talks by the Paris-Villette-funded communication and production lab teams, which were dedicated to the African companies, and had more artistic lab time. The lighting design lab work took place at night.
How did the artists respond to your propositions?
The morning dance class was not an immediate hit. I went first – teaching Pilates – to break the ice and eventually, each of the artists shared their own routine. I was very happy to see the Théâtre Paris Villette and Aerowaves team members – including administrative director Anna Arthur – take the classes too. It really brought both sides together. Imagine how valuable it was for Aerowaves artists Waddah Sinada and Rhys Dennis to share a bit of their own contemporary dance there. And the next morning, Salamata Kobré, female dancer and founder of Cie S-K, would introduce Burkinabè dances, or Nigerien-Ivorian female performer and choreographer Loulou Véronique the “coupé-décalé”. It also balanced the relationship between dancers and producers, who would learn something in return from the artists.
What were the main reasons behind your project?
My main focus is to promote movement of people and artistic works. On the one hand, I had noticed some artists from the African diaspora based in Europe were interested in working in African countries but were not familiar with what was happening there. That was the case of Smaïl Kanouté, whom I met in Elefsina, Greece, and was just coming back from Bamako, Mali. On the other hand, I had noticed that in Senegal, the idea of European contemporary dance was essentially French. So I thought it would be interesting to have artists from all across Europe present their work in Africa.
What practical and artistic issues did you have to deal with in the process?
After the 2021 edition of the festival, the Théâtre Paris Villette and I were hoping to make Génération A a biennial. But we decided to take one more year to think about how to better prepare the artists’ attendance. For example, we shared more information about the 2024 edition with structures in France and Europe. We also chose three projects that we would follow up through creative process until the festival.
I also found the question of “naming” delicate. The artists we’re inviting are linked in one way or another to Africa, regardless of the city they’re currently based in, their skin colour or nationality. I like the English expression “from and about Africa”, which I read in a festival in The Netherlands, but I haven’t found a French equivalent yet.
What lessons have you learnt during the Génération A – The Lab? What advice would you give to yourself if you knew what you know now?
Preparation time is a big deal. You have to figure out who to invite and build a consistent project that makes sense for everybody. But at some point, you also have to trust your feelings. Things will certainly not go the way you imagined and you want be porous to the unexpected. For example, I never knew if the artists I matched to work together onstage would get along. I had to stay attentive to their needs. During the Lab, the artists were already thinking about showcasing in the Duo Solo Danse festival coming next. So dealing with the feedback of other artists on their own work while rehearsing was not always easy. Outside perspectives can open new artistic pathways as much as they can close them. So, the point was not to take all pieces of advice from the collaborations. You also had to leave some of that to one side.
Where is your project now, a few months later?
The most recent change is actually a burning issue. As of early September, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs prohibited – I don’t know what else to call it – all further artistic collaborations with artists from Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. So this particularly affects us since there is an Ivory-Coast artist living in Niger and a company based in Burkina Faso among the project supported by Génération A – The Lab. It will also affect the solo performance of another Burkinabè artist coming to the festival’s next edition in Paris. These alarming events can question the involvement of artists with whom we’ve been working for more than a year now. For now, we don’t know exactly what the consequences will be for Génération A in Théâtre Paris Villette in 2024 and for the European artists involved.
How does this situation affect the way you consider your work?
When I created a dance festival in Paris with African artists, I didn’t have the feeling it was a particularly political move. I had noticed very interesting things emerging from the dances I came across and I wanted to see them circulate. Very few artists from the African continent were presented on French stages at that time. Despite the funding issue and the pandemic, we had managed two successful editions of Génération A. We thought it would be easier this time… So now, not only do I feel politically committed, but I also understand why nobody did something similar before us.
Where do you see your work going given this new context? Does it affect your enthusiasm?
Not in the least! I am a stubborn person and I would love for these works to be seen way outside of France. However, we have to acknowledge that many European countries will not invite artists based in Africa, not because they lack curiosity, but because they can’t afford the logistics and ecological costs.
Beyond this, I truly believe in the “lab formula” and its horizontal architecture. From the beginning of the project until the very last shows at Duo Solo Danse (when Aerowaves artists Waddah Sinada & Rhys Dennis, Lois Alexander and Smaïl Kanouté all performed), I felt that this experience had influenced the artists’ works. They seemed deeply connected to the performing space. And it was beautiful and very interesting to see how Lois Alexander perceived Loulou Véronique’s work and vice versa. After the festival, I sent a short feedback survey to the artists and the outcome was quite enthusiastic. I am convinced that the accomplishments from the labs can change things in the long run.
Génération A will run from 10 to 14 June 2024, at Théâtre Paris Villette.