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Compagnie Jant-Bi 'Fagaala'

Reflecting on the past and looking towards the future

by Becca Hirschman

October 7 , 2005 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Germaine Acogny’s Compagnie Jant-Bi landed with a bang in San Francisco Friday night. Acogny, choreographer and “mother of contemporary African dance,” along with Japanese choreographer and Butoh-trained Kota Yamazaki, weaves a multidimensional and thought-provoking combination of dance, music, and theater into an inspirational evening-length work for seven male dancers entitled “Fagaala.” Currently touring the US and Australia, “Fagaala,” which means genocide in Wolof, the Senegalese language, claims inspiration from the genocide in Rwanda but doesn’t seem to judge or criticize past events. Instead, it takes us on a journey of the human experience during this violent period.

While I initially balked at combining contemporary modern movements, African dance, and Butoh-inspired dance into one seamless movement vocabulary, Acogny and Yamazaki succeeded in their effort, presenting a contemplative array of ideas in a loose yet directional framework. Jant-Bi’s seven dancers, Babacar Ba, Cire Beye, Abdoulaye Kane, Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (Kaolack), Ousmane Bane Ndiaye, Tchebe Saky, and Abib Sow, performed admirably, with crisp technique and a passion for performance. They displayed a power onstage that is rarely seen. There’s a moment early on, when the cool lighting changes to a warm, golden hue, and the dancers stare into the audience with a look of longing and reflection, but when the mood shifts back to blues and grays, their faces reveal the cold, harsh reality of life as a conglomerate of solitary moments fused together. The dancers’ physicality extended beyond the forearm cartwheels and back headstand walkovers to capoeira-style kicks, modern lifts, hip rolls, and curvatures of the back. Throughout, they emphasized the physical body as a representation of the individual and the masses and visions of masturbation, sexual conquests, murder, and birth populate the work. Genocide tore apart these bodies, these people, in a raw and vulnerable way, and it further affected how they viewed themselves and everyone else around them.

One of the final segments brings many of these ideas together in a unique way. The dancer who earlier with his shirt covering his face gyrated his pelvis back and forth for four minutes in a spotlight of pale yellow light, returned to the stage covered in chalk-like dust, resembling a statue or the body of the deceased. Downstage, he moved at varying speeds, jumping, swaying, and gesturing, and as he did so, dust would lift off of his body and extend into the audience, the wings, and the stage, emphasizing that we are all connected, and while this travesty occurred in the past, it is not forgotten. We have a common responsibility to correct the errors of the past and create a better, more accepting world instead of one where genocide is condoned.

Not everything, though, works in “Fagaala.” For example, long drapes of fabric are overused in contrived manners, such as running from wing to wing being held above the head or draped over a dancer suggesting ominous things to come. But this is trivial compared to the rest of the work which exceeded my expectations and had the gears in my head spinning from the end of the performance through now. “Fagaala” truly presents compelling and provocative images in a multi-faceted, rousing, and exciting performance, and I hope it inspires and affects others for years to come.

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