Friday, September 27, 2019

La Mama hosts the great Germaine Acogny

Germaine Acogny, "Mother of Contemporary African Dance,"
performs SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING
(photo: Thomas Dorn)

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING
by Germaine Acogny and Mikäel Serre
FIAF's Crossing The Line Festival
La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theatre
September 26-28

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING--a US premiere for Crossing The Line Festival by renowned Senegalese/French contemporary dance artist Germaine Acogny and director Mikäel Serre--unfolds as if it were dreamt, a full-sensory haunting both sustained in time and elusively fluid in nature. A rich soundscape makes the viewer feel surrounded, engulfed. Visual design tucks things far out of reach or behind layers of other images, or suddenly zooms them large or slips them back into darkness, seriously messing with rational sense of space.

Its fascinating and troubling text, adapted for the stage by Serre, is often spoken in French by Acogny while also running in English as supertitles. If you do not comprehend French, this regularly pulls your gaze up and away from the stately moving sculpture that is Acogny.

You make your choices here; they're difficult, disruptive, regretful and the only ones you're allowed. At almost every turn, she and her creative team suspend us in a phenomena from which we cannot turn away. Even the smell of baby powder and the tickle of tiny, airborne feathers will eventually reach our unguarded selves.

A stage-spanning string curtain serves as a scrim onto which ghostly images may be projected and into which solid objects (and our beloved dancer) can be swallowed out of sight as if dragged below waves.

Like the simple props that will gather dramatic meaning--an open notebook, its white pages reflecting light; a pillow the dancer hugs to her chest, a heavy rock--Acogny contains the brooding power of history, of secrets, a complicated narrative with webs of connection to the Greek Medea and the tragedy of today's refugees seeking safety in Europe.

One surprise discovery, among many, in a diary--the words "Power is passed down from woman to woman." How to access that inheritance? Does it come from things--a set of formidable butcher knives passed along to the wrong person? Or is it knowledge, the force of truth about oneself that can purge the evil wrought by colonialism, patriarchal religion, racism, male supremacy?

Now in her 70s, Acogny--choreographer, performer and educator--has been called "Mother of Contemporary African Dance." Watch as she makes startling use of Johnny Cash's recording of "Hurt" with its evocation of self-inflicted pain and "empire of dirt," and you will grasp why this artist can claim worldwide reverence. Do not miss her historic performance at La MaMa.

Concept and direction: Mikäel Serre
Choreography: Germaine Acogny
Set design: Maciej Fiszer
Costumes: Johanna Diakhate-Rittmeyer
Music: Fabrice Bouillon "LaForest"
Video: Sebastien Dupouey
Lighting design: Sebastien Michaud

Talkback moderation: Okwui Okpokwasili
Translation: Courtney Geraghty

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING runs through tomorrow evening at La MaMa with performance at 7pm. For information and tickets, click here.

For information on other events in Crossing The Line, an annual presentation of French Institute Alliance Française, click here.

La Mama (Ellen Stewart Theatre)
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), Manhattan

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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