Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar introduces Zab Maboungou | Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, who perform as part of the Global Dance Connections series April 6-8:
I first encountered Montreal choreographer Zab Maboungou not through a performance, but at a lecture which she gave, which had a strong impact on me. What she said, how she spoke and the passion that underlined each statement was absolutely riveting. To this day I believe that Canada - and not just the dance scene - is enriched through thinkers and practitioners like Zab. Not just because she provides a voice to often silent, some would argue marginalized dance communities and their cultural legacies, but also because she understands the breadth of the meaning of cultural transfers: it is not about mixing up differences, but rather the meeting points, the dialogue, the universal truths, as much as the individual truth of how we see ourselves, our cultural heritage(s) and how we engage with other, and the outcomes of these encounters and journeys. As a philosopher (a discipline she teaches at university level) and a researcher she enriches the dance milieu as she provides a strong and insightful voice to an art form that is still seeking to assert itself, and finding a way of talking about the art form from an academic point of view that transmits more readily across sectors, disciplines and audiences alike.
I connected to Zab’s way of thinking and subsequently her work - my childhood growing up in Ghana perhaps meant it had an additional resonance, for this person from white western traditions. At that time she was often referred to by many colleagues as working in African dance: she was actually born in Paris, but grew up in the Republic of the Congo, returning to France to study before moving to Canada. However, what I saw in the work was a profound understanding of not only the traditions at the root of African dance (for there are so many dances in Africa!), but its role in society and its culture - something that she speaks about in broader terms and is equally applicable across other cultures and traditions. I saw a deep understanding of the body as a political and an artistic expressive voice. As she moved to group work I was struck by her innate understanding of space, time, composition, technique, transposition and transformation. I was amazed by the freedom in her dance and the rigour that was required of the dancers to achieve this sense of freedom on stage, and to transfer it to the audience. Something, the je ne sais quoi if you will, of what attracts us to all great works of art. It is when we are all brought together, in a reframed gaze, in a unified joy of the encounter; when we look past the colour or gender and simply exist in that moment, in tune with ourselves and with the other. It brings down all sorts of preconceived assumptions when we enter a world we are not familiar with. Looking for the similarities rather than at the differences, allows us to engage.
Mozongi - which translates as 'Return' - is a work that I saw at Parcours Danse in Montreal in 2015. I remember the beginning which was so unexpected (and I'm not going to reveal here!); the rhythm slowly evolving and then the bodies simply building up movement upon movement. It was a truly trancelike experience, however one that kept my eye intently following the evolution of the movement phrases, the spatial patterns, the subtle dances which occur in between the powerful movements and interplay with the drumming, the rhythms that kept emerging and filled the space so tangibly. I was struck how the African movement patterns were deconstructed and re-assembled in new ways. It reminded me of how we were taught to understand Cunningham as a deconstruction of the classical form, or Graham. I thought then and there that this simply had to be seen by as many as possible, not only as a great piece of choreography, but for what it means to choreograph; how tradition, and what is perceived as traditional, can transcend into contemporary. Zab has been doing this for a long time, and her own technique that she has developed as a result – Loketo - is very vividly put to work in Mozongi.
Zab has been acknowledged here in Canada as a pioneer of contemporary African dance; in 2014 she and her company Nyata Nyata ('stamp your feet') received the 30th Grand Prix du Conseil des arts de Montreal for Mozongi (among many other national awards). She is acknowledged internationally for both her work as researcher and also choreographer, in places such as the US, England, Africa, Europe, and South Korea.
Mozongi is exactly what the word indicates: those who come back feed our lives, and we feed theirs. It is about time, and while we may recognize repetition in the movement phrases it is about persistence. Although we can be quick in stating that movement is what is important in Zab's work in fact it is time, as is space. Though the body, the movement as defined through her work articulates how political the body in performance can be. This immensely powerful work evolves through the interplay of contrasts in movement and stillness, and the unrelenting rhythms of the drumming, the breath, and the contrasting earthiness of the bodies in motion. Watching the work I understood vividly what Zab meant when she once said: “Being a body is a performance in itself”. I also thought how closely her thought process as a philosopher is aligned with her work as choreographer: "when I think I dance, when I move I feel thinking".
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections series
Zab Maboungou | Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata: Mozongi
April 6-8, 2017 at Scotiabank Dance Centre
Photos: Kevin Calixte