You wouldn’t believe it if you saw the room we rehearsed this show in! »

Interview with Sylvain Zabli, by Olivier Barlet

Compagnie Sylvain Zabli (Côte d'Ivoire),"Monné"
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Your choreography has a strongly affirmed masculine side to it.
I only work with men because there aren’t many women dancers in Côte d’Ivoire. The only woman in the company joined at a much later date. The male dancers are a lot more anchored, more inclined to act, which is important in contemporary dance. When I want to get them to express an emotion, I tell them to think of something that hurts, for example. They have to be actors. Moreover, the theme of this choreography is war, which is particularly masculine! They all throw their chests out: fighting for their survival.
The troupe hurls abuse at two of the characters.
We imagined a scene in which the two characters designate themselves president and speak in complete disrespect for the people. Hence the event that comes later. My travels have caused me to introduce spoken texts. You cannot express exactly what you want through dance. The texts and songs reinforce the danced expression.
And the music?
I start by creating my ballets without music. The music comes later. I needed music that people are not used to hearing, and so I worked with a musician in this direction. It’s the opposite of using dance to illustrate a piece of music. But it is more difficult financially, because you have to pay the musician.
Isn’t it hard working without music?
We sometimes put some reggae on quietly in the background to create an ambiance, but one which is unrelated to the work. Moreover, there are moments of silence in the show itself. The dance has to come from itself. The dancer has to feel what he dances within.
The dance is full of pain.
We are affected by what is happening here in Côte d’Ivoire and in the whole of Africa. People are bitter, some explode, do stupid things, and regret them later. We have few means, but that is no reason to give up. We can help one another amongst choreographers too. You have to awaken the person within who tells you the good things to do and the bad things to avoid. The narrator in the show is that conscience.
Is a process of grieving, of work on the self needed?
Music is gentle in church funerals in France to leave a place for crying. In Africa, pain is expressed through force, not gentleness. A woman who loses her husband or child dances to express her suffering.
But there is also a renaissance.
It wasn’t easy to get inexperienced dancers to express what they haven’t experienced themselves. So I had to get them to work on themselves. I asked them to express what they felt when your stomach hurts so much you cry. It is an internal effort, not just work on the body. I am proud to see them on the cover of the Masa journal, it’s the result of this work.
Souleymane Koly’s influence on your choreography can be felt.
I trained with him for ten years! I am proud that people recognize his influence on my work. I am the fruit of that training. I received the knowledge I pass on to my dancers from him and from Rokiya Traoré. I learnt to express myself in theatre and to dance with J-Ban!
Ivoirian dance is very well represented at international events.
Because there are a lot of dancers. The Variétoscope programme attracts dancers! People spend their holidays in dance classes. There are 700 towns in Côte d’Ivoire. Each region has to present a ballet of six dancers per region, which means a lot of dancers each year. Dance is thus always developing and thriving. Everyone experiments and there are many groups.
What are your work conditions like?
We work because we love dance! I work for myself first, and for my country second. The Ministry doesn’t finance a thing. I am the one who invests in the costumes, the technical crew… As for the dancers, they are highly motivated people who don’t ask for much. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw the room we rehearsed this show in. We make do, we don’t have any choice. We run workshops to finance the bare minimum. Last year, we did 18 workshops in France, which enabled us to meet our needs.
Our governments need to help us. They need to understand that we are the young generation and that we cannot work in the old way. They need at least to come and see us!

///Article N° : 5543


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