Dorothée Munyaneza, the daughter of a journalist and a pastor, was 12 years old when the Tutsi people in Rwanda became the victims of the largest mass murder in recent history. Survival was a matter of luck. Munyaneza found a hiding place when the butchers came. She stresses that she will never forget the sound of axes and machetes as long as she lives. She also narrowly avoided death when fleeing to her mother in London (who had emigrated shortly before the massacre). “Even today I ask everyone I work with: ‘where were you in April 1994?’” In London, she studied music and singing. In France, where she has lived for nine years, she met the choreographer François Verret, who incorprated her into his company as a singer. Work with Robyn Orlin and other prominent choreographers followed. But it wasn’t until working on “Baron Samedi”, a dance piece by Alain Buffard, that she was able to speak about the horror. Not on the stage, but at the beginning of rehearsals, with the other performers. But even that was enough to break the dams. It was the release that made it possible for her to find her way back to dance. Back? “Samedi détente” was the name of a radio programme she danced to every Saturday in her childhood. The piece is based on memories that slowly returned to her over time. And Munyaneza also returned to Rwanda, met the surviving Tutsi and felt the pain that they have learnt to conceal. Saw their scarred souls and bodies. Felt the void that the dead had left behind. In her piece, she calls out the names of some of the 800,000 victims. Above all, however, she remembers the carefree childhood that was brutally snatched from her.
It is her version of activism. It began with the struggle to even be able to articulate her experience. “I don’t want to be a history teacher, but rather an artist with a message,” she says today. At the Avignon Festival she presented her second piece, which shows where her path leads: to a universally political dance theatre. “Unwanted” deals with the children who came into the world through mass rape as a form of warfare, in Rwanda and elsewhere. What do the mothers feel? Which forms of discrimination are they exposed to? Can they still accept their bodies? Munyaneza was not raped. She became a mother in France and would one day even be able to create a piece of pure dance that could appear completely light-hearted. That would be her personal victory as an activist.
Background Photo: Hervé Véronèse