After « Djigui ni Hami » (« Hopes and Fears »), the first ballet by J-Ban, which was created in 1996, Rokiya Koné continues her spiritual quest with « Nesse Mon ». Choreographer of the Ensemble Kotéba d’Abidjan (directed by Souleymane Koly) from 1990 onwards, she set up her own company, the Jeune Ballet d’Afrique Noire, five years later, in the aim that it be a laboratory of choreographic research.
Whilst several common elements crop up in both of these first two creations – the burning interior questioning, the danced prayer ritual, the uncertain battle between shadow and light, the figure of the grand priestess, holder of sacred power – « Nesse Mon » (« The fire does not die ») displayed a new choreographic maturity. Here, Rokiya Koné develops a personal, more minimalist style, which is more and more distinct from that of the Ensemble Kotéba ballets.
Built around the metaphor of the sacred fire, « Nesse Mon » lies at the crossroads between prayer, poetry, and danced narrative. The piece opens with an intense celebration by the two vestals, who are charged with the task of not letting the flame of vital energy die. Set to a lunar music, which mixes synthesizers and the deep rumbling of a horn, the obscurely and strikingly beautiful grand priestess – Rokiya Koné – advances, hieratic, carrying the sacred bowl in which a light flashes like a heart beat. The young dancer Kandè Kanté, her solar double, as beautiful as a goddess, joins her. The two women launch into an incantatory prayer, in which they manage, through in the dramatic dialogue of their solos, to convey a poignant emotion. At least until seven dancers, dressed in a loin cloth tied around their hips like the Ancient Egyptians, and with shaved heads and an ephebic beauty, drive them away and take possession of the stage. A battle to conserve the sacred flame then ensues between the two vestals and these fascinating warriors.
Presented for the first time at the Masa 99, « Nesse Mon » was much applauded by the public. The success of the show comes not only from its dynamic choreography – which draws as much on traditional African dance steps as it does from contemporary Western styles (Rokiya Koné regularly works with the American choreographer Ronald Kevin Brown) – the well rhythmed alternation of slow and fast tempos, and the fascinating grace of the dancers, but also from the inventiveness of its music and stage direction. The musicians, present on the stage, notably use a basin full of water to produce several of the sound effects. And, unlike other dance shows presented at the Masa, « Nesse Mon » really makes use of lighting.
However, whilst the second J-Ban ballet is appealing in many respects, it can seem too safe. The interpretation is at times regrettably too applied, the group movements – which are perfectly timed – a little repetitive, and there is a lack of finesse in the relation to space.We are thus impatiently looking forward to the next creation by the undeniably promising choreograph Rokiya Koné.
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