Kaay Fecc Festival 2003: spectacularly successful

By Ayoko Mensah

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From the 30 May to 7 June, Dakar hosted the second edition of the Kaay Fecc international dance festival. Initiated by choreographers and dancers of African origin, the event surpassed all expectations. It was extremely professional, social, attractive and convivial. The platform was of a very high standard, marking a new political awareness of dance in Senegal.

The Kaay Fecc festival (pronounced « Kaï Fetch ») was a real surprise, a very stimulating surprise. Held two years ago, the first edition had already been extremely successful despite limited means and an inexperienced team. A handful of young dancers and choreographers of African origin who were living in Dakar launched the project. They were determined to fight to gain recognition for dance and to improve the status of artists in Senegal. « … around the world, and increasingly every day, Africa’s cultural influence is spreading. Artists the world over are increasingly interested in Africa. This is why we all – dancers, choreographers, teachers and theorists – want to see both the market and creativity stimulated with the aim of improving professional training for artists and to develop modern creations that also preserve the inherent characteristics of our dances. We also wanted to hold an event here, in our own country – this was to be the Kaay Fecc international dance festival which was intended to honour creation in all its forms », wrote the managerial team in their preamble for the first edition.
They have come a long way in two years. The festival has not only gone from amateur-run to outstandingly professional, but it has also imposed itself as one of the most ambitious private cultural initiatives to have been launched in Africa over recent years.
A festival for the people
Africa has but a few international dance festivals. Paradoxically, while dance is performed all over the continent, in both rural and urban environments, and while it is an important part of social life, it is struggling to gain recognition as an art form capable of becoming increasingly professional and evolving. One of the objectives of the Kaay Fecc association is to change this situation in Senegal, notably by increasing the public’s awareness of dance.
For this reason, the festival is designed for the general public. It is a kind of giant party « of all dances » in which everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or social status, is invited to participate (hence the name of the festival, which means « Come and dance » in Wolof).
To reach as wide a public as possible, the festival was not restricted to institutional venues. Most performances were held at the very official Théâtre National Daniel Sorano and the French cultural centre, however the real heart of the festival beat in the Douta Seck cultural centre, in the working-class area of the Médina where a convivial village was set up, featuring crafts stands and a large open-air stage. Most likely because this was not sufficient to reach a new audience unused to the theatre, Kaay Fecc forayed into various neighbourhoods as well. Lively demonstrations of Sabar (a lively Senegalese folk dance) and simb (traditional dance of the false lion) were held in town squares in Pikine, Dalifort and the Fass housing project.
« If the audience won’t move, it’s up to us to go to it – to make people want to go to other shows, other dance performances, » explains Nganti Towo, festival director. « We are trying to contribute to the spectators’ artistic education. Particularly by increasing their awareness of works and artists, by teaching them to refrain from using a flash when taking photographs and to respect requests to refrain from filming. This is difficult because in Africa the performance integrates everyone. It is not the same concept as in the West. The ideal situation would be to have a mobile stage that would enable us to perform creations for distant audiences. »
Until such equipment is available, Kaay Fecc is relying on free entry to all performances and strong media support, particularly on television. And it is working. The performances play to a full house, the village is animated until well into the night and opening and closing nights carry a tense excitement. The public has responded with alacrity. Judging by the diversity of the audiences, which feature a lot of young people but also Senegalese and expatriate families, this kind of festival has a very important social role to play. The management team openly asserts this objective, which provides a common thread for the entire event.
Reconciling dance and audiences
While the majority of cultural operators tend to divide everything into two categories – tradition or modernity, amateur or professional, folk dance or creative dance – Kaay Fecc deliberately set out to unite these categories. This constitutes one of the main objectives and most interesting features of the festival. It is hard to imagine a more eclectic programme with contemporary European and African dance, neo-traditional ballet, theatre-dance, children’s shows, and even « dance for awareness », which is much like theatre that aims to increase awareness, on the issue of Aids.
In all, 31 performances contributed an astonishing variety of approaches, styles, origins and age groups. They also proved that it is possible to reconcile dances and audiences. There were just as many spectators at the very contemporary and intellectual O. More, by Franco-Guinean-Vietnamese choreographer Bernardo Montet, as at the neo-traditional ballets, Sinomew and Bakalama. And the Senegalese children’s companies, ‘Les Etincelles’ and ‘Les Dofs de la danse’, were hardly mere programme-fillers. The young dancers (aged between 8 and 18 years) were surprisingly at ease on stage, to the extent that their stage presence overwhelmed and completely enchanted the audience. They took inspiration from the lives of Dakar’s street kids in particular and their performances were anything but ordinary.
As far as choreographic research is concerned, five African dance companies presented pieces that were extremely different both in their substance and from a visual point of view. In Bujuman (which means « vagabond » in Wolof), the Senegalese dance company 5ème Dimension – the company’s choreographer, Jean Tamba, is also the festival’s Artistic Director – explored alienation in modern society. The decor was apocalyptic (the ground and walls were littered with old clothes, bags and plastic bottles). Four dancers (including a radiant Simone Gomis) and two musicians expressed the experience of being marginalized and rejected by society. The choreography and stage design were highly original but it is a shame that the dramatics are diluted. There are nevertheless several very powerful scenes, notably when the dancers’ gestures move their distress into the realm of burlesque.
Jean Tamba chose to use an aesthetic based on accumulation while Andreya Ouamba, another well-known figure in Senegalese contemporary dance (the choreographer of Congolese origin has been living in Dakar for the past four years), opted for total sobriety. In Pression, his sculptured movements, which are at once slow, expansive and disarticulated, are extremely personal and are acutely expressive. However, here again, there is a regrettable weakness in the dramatics. The individual scenes follow on from each other but do not make much sense to the spectator.
Lastly, in Cabaret Show, Marianne Niox – another reference in Dakar – experimented with blending cabaret style with that of certain traditional Senegalese dances. The Polish-Cameroon artist co-founded the festival two years ago but has since retired from the managerial committee. She is very critical of the way dance is evolving in Africa and is concerned that choreographers may not be on the right track: « Contemporary dance is not a technique but rather an ensemble of techniques, » she warns, « It is the fruit of an entire programme. In Africa, however, people want to take shortcuts, which is dangerous. I’ve got a feeling that they want to acculturate us by making us think that dance is contemporary dance – even if our public finds this confusing. I am against this illusion. It will lead us down a dead-end path. This type of dance doesn’t correspond with our experiences. »
Numerous dancers around Africa, especially in Burkina Faso, share her concern. Auguste Ouedraogo, who was born in Burkina Faso, is one of the most promising young performing choreographers of his generation. His piece, Buudu ou le songe du peuple (Buudu, or the dream of the people), which was presented on closing night, refers to this issue. In guise of an introduction, he writes, « Becoming aware of the heritage that we must preserve in order to protect cultural, economic and spiritual development in the future, knowing what my people are and were, before trying to think about what they want to become. » This masculine trio is reminiscent of the leading Burkina Faso dance company, Salia Ni Seydou with Figninto. Buudu revisits Mossi myths, customs and rituals. Worth noting is its skilful construction and extremely precise choreography.
The most refined and inventive performance would have to have been by Cap Verdi dance company, Raiz Di Polon. With CV Matrix 25 and the delightful female duo, Duas Sem Tres, their choreographer Mano Preto has produced two gems that are both original and insightful. Through their marvellous stage direction (branches that the dancers pick up like women do traditionally, polymorph wood structures, a vacuum cleaner that turns into a microphone, etc), great music (the excellent singer and guitarist, Sara Tavares, is present on stage and extensive use is made of Cape Verde music) and original choreography of these two pieces testifies to some masterful writing but they are also strongly rooted in the island nation’s popular culture.
And so it was that the programme for this second edition was marked by diversity and quality. The Senegalese ballet company, Takku Liggey was a perfect example of the festival’s philosophy. The troupe was created in the Mbour Centre for people with motor disabilities and features 25 able-bodied and disabled artists. Their show, entitled Yewu, provided the festival with one of its most powerful moments, not only because of its visual and professional qualities but also because of the power of the social message it communicated and that was summed up by the troupe’s slogan, « A handicap is the way people look at you ». These dancers give us an impressive lesson in art and life. By including them in the programme along with everyone else, Kaay Fecc was acted according in accordance with its role as social integrator and its African specificity as opposed to Western events.
Political recognition
It is its artistic and philosophical maturity that made Kaay Fecc such a spectacular success. At last a cultural festival in Africa is on a par with the professionalism of festivals in the North, while asserting the specificity of its approach that is not just a copy of the Western model! This feat is largely due to the small team that launched the festival. Two women in particular were responsible for its creation, for taking risks and convincing everyone.
Nganti Towo, the festival director, and Gassirah Diagne, the festival administrator, come from similar backgrounds. Both are of French-African mixed race and both are professional nomads (they both lived in the United States and in France before settling in Senegal). These thirty-something emancipated go-getters are passionate about dance. However, it was their tertiary studies and intellectual background – something that African artists often lack – that enabled them to successfully take on a cultural endeavour of this kind … and to inject a new spirit into this festival.
Firstly, by obtaining some very real involvement from the Senegalese authorities. The Mayor of Dakar and the President were two of the major sponsors for this second edition. The exceptional support they provided contributed enormously to the quality and professionalism of the festival. « It’s an all-time first for Africa, » explains Nganti Towo, « Senegal is our biggest financial partner. This is extremely important. It shows that they believe in us. It’s a major step for the recognition of artists in Senegal. »
Syndiély Wade, the Senegalese president’s daughter who fell in love with the concept of the festival, is behind the funding. By backing the project, she enabled the organisers to gain access to a number of services. At the end of the day, the real success of the festival is in having created hope. « We have shown that real professionalism is possible in Africa. That’s the festival’s biggest achievement. It has given us enormous confidence. Dance and culture in general can be tools for development. It’s time that governments realised this, « states the administrator, Gassirah Diagne.
In order to keep its promises, the festival will be held every two years. However, this does not stop the Kaay Fecc association from carrying out numerous activities between each edition, including training sessions for dancers, a project with the Ballet Takku Liggey and residencies for foreign choreographers. The result is that a veritable hub for dance-related activities being created in Senegal currently. This is one way to pick up the trend that was broken off when, Mudra Afrique, the first pan-African school of dance was closed at the end of the 1980s (it was set up by Maurice Béjart in Dakar). Today, dance is more alive than ever in Senegal. It is propelled by young African artists who are profoundly aware of Africa’s cultural worth.

DANCE COMPANIES HOSTED
Bernardo Montet (France) ; Raiz Di Polon (Cape-Verde) ; Dance Factory National Theatre (Ghana) ; Editta Braun (Austria) ; Nyata-Nyata (Congo-Canada) ; Savog (Togo-Germany) ; Fist And Heel Dance Company, Reggie Wilson (USA) ; Matteo Moles (Belgium) ; Szerelem (France) ; Ta (Burkina Faso) ;
1er Temps, Andreya Ouamba ; Artea ; 5e Dimension ; Takku Liguey ; Ballet Kibaro Baleya ; Troupe Théatrale Nouveau Né ; Les Etincelles ; Davidson Boys ; Les Dofs de la Danse ; Théatre de l’Espace Sobo Bade ; Pasteef ; Ballet Sinomew ; Onye & Doudou ; Bakalama ;Yeel’Art ; Ballet Africa Matimbo ; Troupe Bassari Zingtag ; Troupe Fissourou de Moudery ; Etoiles Boys ; Ballet Kolaam Sereer ; Ballets Africains de Sangomar (Senegal).
CONTACT : Association Kaay Fecc – BP 12828 Dakar Sénégal – Tel : (221) 820 06 20 – Fax : (221) 869 55 84 – E-Mail : [email protected] – website : www.au-senegal.com/kaayfecc////Article N° : 5709

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