EW: One of the most important components in Fela Kuti’s music is the mixing of Western and African influences. You also constantly move between the cultural spheres, between Burkina Faso, Belgium and many other places. How does that influence your practice?
SC: Actually, there is one place I go to regularly, which not too many people know about: I regularly work in Australia. Since 2004 I’ve been there once a year, to work with a company within an aboriginal community. This work has been highly important to me, since it has shown me the concept of colonization from a completely new perspective – in Australia it is still a contemporary phenomenon. So when I’m there, it’s like looking at myself from very far away. Getting new glimpses at the connection between my positioning in Africa as well as Europe and the interconnectedness of both places. It is a luxurious view, because usually I don’t have enough distance to see the bigger picture. Certainly not when I have to abide to market structures, when I am in Africa, but really producing pieces for Europe – where the money is. Whenever I’m in Australia I let myself dwell on thoughts of how the West still exhibits its images of Africa and how the market wants me to abide to these ideas.
I consider myself a global artist who works in Europe, Africa and Australia. I’m not busy with being African; I’m busy creating work that touches me. Yet I won’t pretend that the working situations and possibilities are the same in those very different locations. Which is a good thing to feed off artistically.
EW: Has the dance scene in Burkina Faso changed noticeably since you and other choreographers became household names in the global festival scene?
SC: Especially in the last two years things have been moving fast. We are now able to show works that would have been impossible a while ago. My generation, and also the next, are much more political these days. I think I was one of the first choreographers in the region to be able to voice my political views on stage to a broader audience. I feel that I owe the audience a certain political perspective, rather than personal introspection. I would argue that not too many people in Burkina Faso would gain much from insights into my family life or personal feelings, neither from the constant talk about transitioning from tradition to modernity. Especially the latter, since in my daily life I don’t think about tradition, I just live it, it’s a part of me. So, I prefer to speak about other things in my choreographies: about civil disobedience, decolonisation, social and political topics from an artistic perspective. I want to motivate larger audiences to come and see contemporary dance and to grapple with contemporary topics.
EW: Your work comes from a socially critical point of view. What are the most pressing issues you’d like to see addressed in Burkina Faso at the moment?
SC: To me it’s about bringing the images of a contemporary Africa forward on a global level. To break the stereotypes and misconceptions of what Africa still is in the minds of many people. I struggle with the idea of being perceived as a choreographer ‘from’ Burkina, since I view myself as a global artist. But of course there are pressing issues here. In one of my first choreographies – “Et demain” – I dealt with unemployment and with the increasing violence that was spreading through our society. It spoke about a youth that is being robbed of its future by a handful of corrupt politicians. The next topic was immigration and how it represents hope in our corner of the world, since the realities in Burkina and other African countries still look dim. Then, in the midst of all that hopelessness, I tried to create a piece about hope, basing it on the vivid memories of those African leaders who actually did make a difference: Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah or Thomas Sankara. I try to reach the young these days, and many of them see themselves as heirs to the political visions of such people. I’m interested in the question of recreating oneself once you’ve had nothing anymore, that also relates to my understanding of dance. I’m interested in the constant use of physical and emotional resources and in learning new methods on the way.
EW: That approach seems to take shape in “Nuit blanche à Ougadougou”.
SC: Yes, that piece was a continuation of the subject. It dwelled on the idea that the problems in most African countries didn’t arise from a lack of money or resources – but for political reasons. It was about revolution, about people who dared to speak back, to work around censorship and other modes of oppression. And it included one of the most politically vocal artists at the time – Hip Hop musician Smockey. Coincidentally three days after the premiere in Ougadougou the real revolution happened. I had worked with Smockey for two years, and suddenly he was the leader of a real youth uprising within civil society. Thinking back at those times, I sometimes don’t remember which scenes actually took place on stage and which ones in the street. But the enthusiasm faded quickly, as those things usually do. After that experience I needed a break in trying to resolve social issues. Because at the end of the day: How many people come to see a show and really get influenced?