Book Review: Souvenirs de théâtre d’Afrique et d’Outre-Afrique : Pour que lève la semence, contribution à l’édification d’un théâtre noir universel – Author: Maurice Sonar Senghor
Maurice Sonar Senghor studied all aspects of the theater and became Africa’s first theater director. Even though he was an excellent actor, his most celebrated achievement was the creation of the National Ballet of Senegal. With this Company, Mr. Senghor raised African dance to international acclaim giving it respectability as a true art form on par with dance companies of the western world.
This book is his autobiography of how he became Africa’s first director of theatres. It begins with his last day as director of Theatre National Daniel Sorano and flashes back to tell the story of why he quit the job he loved more than life itself. Senghor begins his book with his first trip to France to continue his studies. He is not impressed with the coldness of the weather in France and begins to complain bitterly. He complained so much that his elders were prepared to bring him back to Africa. He finally settles down and begins to study all aspects of the theater, which is not the path his family wanted him to take. He was supposed to follow in the footsteps and become a lawyer. His choice to study theater so angered his father Jean Latyr, that he withdrew financial support from his son. Maurice is persuaded to use his talents and audition before nightclub owners. He is successful and begins a career as a nightclub entertainer. He meets Josephine Baker who is impressed with his performance and sponsors him on an international tour.
At the end of his first year as a successful entertainer, he decides to change his act. He asks permission from Senegalese poets to use their poems in his nightclub act. These readings spoke of the conditions of colonialism in his homeland. The audiences receives the message well, but the French believe it is an insult to them so they dragged Maurice off the stage, handcuffed him and tossed him in jail where he was beaten, kicked in the chest and tortured. Then he was tossed on the street with his eyes so battered that he can hardly see. He became the spokesman against colonialism in Africa. In 1950 he took under his tutelage Keita Fodeba and they successfully form the National ballet of Keita Fodeba with its premier performance in 1953 sharing the marquee with Ives Montand. Mr. Senghor spends 8 years in France and returns to Senegal with the concept of a theatrical development he wants to create in Senegal. He was appointed director of Theatre du Palais and created the National Ballet of Senegal in 1960.
In 1964 he is appointed director of Theatre National Daniel Sorano and his theatrical movement flourishes with the creation of several more companies, the second ballet, the lyric and instrumental ensemble and dramatic troupe. Maurice Senghor would spend 20 years at Sorano. He was promised a bigger and better job, but the government did not deliver and his replacement showed up before Maurice could line up work for himself, therefore he was forced to resign the job he loved more than life itself.
Bitterly disappointed and abandoned by most Mr. Senghor returned to France in 1996 to live alone. He died in July 2007 at age 80 years. He was one in a million and his talents cannot be replaced.
I gave the book only four stars because it does not have an English translation, which deprives the bulk of his faithful followers and admirers who live outside Africa.
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