WE ALMOST FORGOT

We Almost Forgot.jpg

November 2015. Paris. Adventure. We Almost Forgot. French. Malagasy roots. Doubts.

Anger. Question. Artist’s life. Projects. French. Unfairness. Anger. Fear. Security. Calm.

Artist’s life. Malagasy. Words. Mix. Why. Doubts. Anger. Artist’s life.

 

I joined the adventure We Almost Forgot (WAF) [1] in November 2015, in Paris. It was a time of heavy doubt and anger. The events [2] an entire country was facing shook me to the core. Because of these events, I started questioning myself. What about my French citizenship, my African roots, my artist’s life, my projects? These subjects now became a source of anxiety. I found myself in front of a bloody reality, forced to face the ignorance and brutal violence of which humanity is capable. Throughout my quest for answers, WAF came into my life as an initial sign, soothing the doubts I had about our society and our humanity. How can I best explain this transformational professional and human experience? Should I talk about the cool attitude that the choreographer wears like a second skin, so immediately palpable when I first met him at the audition as he casually entered the dance studio at La Villette? Or the endless laughs I shared with my teammate/colleague/friend Gaëll Ikondja who had generously shared the WAF audition notice with me? The animated “post”- colonialism debates during our lunch breaks? The joy and relief that I felt when I first found out I had been selected to come onboard and be a part of the project? The feeling of pushing the limits during the process of creation? The solidarity that bonds each member of the dance company YK Projects? The long film session, when we watched war documentaries and horrific testimonies from victims of mass killings? Those very testimonies that now inspire our movements on stage? The premiere at Ballhaus Naunystrasse in Berlin?

The encounters with a range of diverse audiences, from Berlin to Eséka? The frustration and disappointment when some performances were cancelled for financial or administrative reasons? No. None of these. If I had to keep one thing to share about this adventure, I would talk about something bright, something inexpressible – somehow unspeakable. I will give a testimony – piece by piece – of a human adventure and the discovery of a story that changed my way of moving.

“There are no rules.” Wait. Move slowly. More life. Control. That’s not it.

I don’t get it. Control.

 

The solos project was born in the dark dance studios of La Villette in Paris. It was during the winter and it was cold. The choreographer Qudus told us he wanted to see each of us shine in his dance creation. He let us know that we would all have our time, though he warned us that we would have to earn it. As always I was ready to take the challenge. I went for it corps et âmes. Yet, it turned out I didn’t fully understand what he expected from me.

“There are no rules.”

Wait. What? When there are no rules, it’s always a mess. “Try not to use too much space.”

Ah okay, I understand better. But still, that doesn’t seem to be it… “Control.”

I was lost in the words. Lost in the images of the documentaries we had watched. I was obsessed by this woman victim of a genocide, left half dead in a ditch where her family and friends were killed. A woman half dead, half alive. Of course, I had learned from the mass media, read on the internet and heard through word of mouth that genocides had killed millions of people. But now, I discovered the story of one human being.

“They are not numbers.”

They are women, men and children with a story. And that’s what this is all about. So, let’s do it!

“Control.”

I felt trapped in my body. I could not really move. Those words, limitless. Those words I could not get. Those images too. The feeling of unfairness that brought me back to my own story. What I carry. I could not stop thinking of the people who came before me. My ancestors. They lost their land. Their dignity. Their stories. Their human condition. Here’s to all of us. To our history. To our own stories. Same world. Same boat. I felt paralyzed.

“Good job! We found something. We have to keep working on it.”

Leaves. Music. Frustration. Turn. Turn. Turn.

 

As rehearsals continued at the Creteil’s National Choreographic Center [3], the atmosphere was still dark and I went deeper into a haze. I was not familiar with Qudus’s process of creation.

“Be dedicated.”

I was dedicated! I listened to the instructions carefully and, as a well-trained dancer, I merely executed. Though what I was doing somehow wasn’t meeting the choreographer’s expectations.

“This is how we will get the best out of each of you”.

I was not able to do it. I didn’t know where to start from? How frustrating. We don’t need words to feel the disappointment of others. It seemed to me as if I had to go the other way, as if I had to ignore the instructions or deliberately misapply them in order to accomplish the tasks. Despite my training and the long hours of practice, I did not know what to do. I was not trained to break the rules. To be wild. A diligent performer, I knew I didn’t get it. Now, the concept of a dance creation as a beautiful product to sell became concrete. Scratches, bruises, wounds of war. No! Wounds of dance. War is an appalling subject, way too serious to merely dismiss. This word cannot be used for any reason.

One afternoon a guest came visiting us. “Give me more for Christ’s sake!”

Apparently, I didn’t give enough of myself. I thought I was doing my best. Chopinot and Onikeku were in the same room and a sense of mutual respect filled the air. Their friendship was a beautiful thing to witness. No need for words. To the sounds of the sufis, it turns, turns, turns. The product we had to present was still occupying our minds. The stage setting took shape. Now, we had leaves that would be covering the floor. At Créteil, we made progress. We had an intense dance program to reveal to the numerous performing art presenters and professionals who showed up. Qudus was being watched. And I was still in search of the light. I was far from being wild,

“for Christ’s sake!”

Brick. Music. Chic. Chic. Music. Brick.

Joy. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. To build.

 

At the Choreographic Center [4], La Briqueterie, the stage light faded in slowly, like a quiet sunrise. The studio Ouest was our playground. Solidarity and dance. From New York to Paris. Simultaneously, it was first about sharing our experiences. We were both a part of a creation process. My dear friend Annabelle Kabemba danced with Radhouan El Meddeb at the 104 [5]. And me working with Qudus Onikeku at La Briqueterie. Forgive me the slight drift in my text, but it was such a joy for us to be sharing the different creative processes we had gone through. The experience of a dancer’s lifetime. We spent hours talking. Sometimes we didn’t even listen to each other. Since we danced intensively all day, we merely needed to talk and to use words. Dance is all about sharing. It’s true, at La Briqueterie, it was about sharing. It was chic too… but it was mostly about sharing frustration. I finally confessed I was not sure what was expected from me.

“Listen, there is a difference between soft and passive”.

I see. I understand better. At least I believe so. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this about myself. But what is this “passive” movement of mine? At La Briqueterie, at noon, it is a time for introductions. Everyone has to stand up and present themselves. What a great time of sharing… Maud Le Pladec and Anne Collod joined us… One year ahead, the Biennale was already there. Sweet biennale. What a privilege to know way in advance what we will do in a year!

“Wait my body hurts!” “Don’t make me laugh!”

Time flies. While the nuits debout succeeded each other in Place de la République, we were still dancing in the magnificent studio at La Briqueterie. The music, oui, la musique. It accompanied us in our joy and pain. Keziah Jones even came to say hello. At last, a mandatory sharing with the end-of-residency performance and the adventure at La Briqueterie had already come to an end.

Premiere. Beginning. Happiness. Tension. Team. Berlin.

In Berlin, it was time for the final phase of the creative process. By now, it was almost summer and hot in the dance studio.

“Let’s try something.” I listened to the growing intensity of the strings. “Yes”

“No”

“That’s it!”

“You lost it. Explore inside.” “It also has to grow.”

It’s so hot in the dance studio. “Control.”

I’m sick of it… Come on, let’s do it. You need to push, you need to give. “Take your time. Listen to the music.”

I feel them, those people, those stories. “Control.”

I need to start again from the beginning. These stories that we carry, the loss of humanity. That is what this is about. Let’s push. Let’s push the boundaries.

“We found something, let’s start with that.” “Though we have to keep working on it!”

In Berlin, it’s buzzing. It’s alive. Finally the team is complete. Matthew and Aboloré arrived from Nigeria. We are finally meeting with our costumes, the stage lights and the setting. The gigantic backdrop that Aboloré spent hours to sew before the show. What a pleasure to meet with my costume. Symbolic clothes protecting me, just like an armor. Wearing it, I am not Gwen anymore. In purple and pink, I am this woman, this child, who fights against war, against unfairness, against inhumanity. I point things out. I’m against the horror for which we are all responsible. I stand against the stupidity, the ignorance. On stage, the fight is always tough but also beautiful. Fighting makes you feel useful. Here it is not a question of interpretation or pantomime. We spent hours watching videos. I carry inside myself the story that my parents inherited from their parents. I carry their pain and mine. Once I’m on stage, it’s impossible for me to merely pantomime. I can’t just execute the gestures. I have the urge to confront the audience with this pain. I can only communicate with them through my body and tell them that we live in a time where we need to wake up. I do so with movement. It is with the movements Qudus helped me find that I impose my voice. And when the last music note announces the end of the piece, I finally allow myself to surrender. I allow a smile and hope to rise through my body. Precisely at that time, I make a wish that the WAF mission will be heard and felt by the audience. That is when all the tension finally goes away.

If the WAF adventure began for me on November 2015, a wholly new experience started in June, 2016: sharing with the audience, bringing this universal piece to a wide range of audiences. From Berlin to Eseka, spanning multiple cities – Lagos, Abuja, Lyon, Fontenay- sous-Bois and Ivry – we met all kinds of human beings. Some of them cheered during the performance just as if they were watching a boxing fight. They were enthusiastic and ready to welcome the piece. Others left the theater, probably because of the violence it made them have to face. They may have refused to see what we invited them to witness and experience. One common thing I noticed in each audience was the complete silence after the piece ended. Paradoxically, it was a heavy silence and a light silence at the same time. At the end of WAF, the moment between the last note and the first applause is always magical. Every time I perform the piece, a fear arises before I enter the stage. I fear being incapable of honoring the message WAF communicates – a message of humanity and the questioning of our responsibilities. Finally, the fear always subsides. When the lights fade out, I am delighted and happy to be a part of such a powerful, engaged performance, today, in this time of turmoil.

 


[1] We Almost Forgot is a dance performance choreographed by Qudus Onikeku and premiered on June 2016 at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse in Berlin.

[2] The events refers to the Paris attacks which took place on November 13, 2015.

[3] Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil.

[4] Centre de Dévelopement Chorégraphique

[5] Le Centquatre-Paris, director José-Manuel Gonçalvès

 

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