After the revolution: a focus on Africa

by Nina Branner, 26 Aug 2017

Dorothée Munyaneza: Unwanted | Credit: Christophe Raynaud de Lage
While Mama Merkel's forward-looking and much-debated ’Compact with Africa’ plan is advocating more economic aid for African countries, many of nations are still fighting for liberation from long-standing colonial structures. Still seeking to understand and move forward from years of war or instability. Still licking their wounds. A number of the performances at this year's Tanz im August put a focus on Africa, in one way or the other asking: What happens in the aftermath of decolonization - what happens after the revolution?

I watched these performances from a white, privileged European perspective. I do not know what it is like to grow up in a country imbued by years of apartheid like Rudi van der Merwe, the man behind “Trophée”. I have no clue how to move from a former dictatorship like Tunisia to France, like the actor and choreographer Radhouane El Meddeb. And I have not, thankfully, gone through the experience of escaping a civil war, as has Dorothée Munyaneza, the maker of “Unwanted”. In a way, I don’t feel that I am in a position to cast judgement on these performances. On the other hand, art is there to make us capable of grasping unfamiliar experiences. Which is exactly where multi-talent Dorothée Munyaneza succeeds. “Unwanted” distinguished itself by taking a wonderfully open approach to its heavy subject: the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, where thousands of women were raped and subsequently gave birth to “unwanted” children. With an earnest, delicate style, Munyaneza opened up a poetic room of quiet sorrow, using music and singing to name the unnameable. Never giving into sentimentalism, she gave the victims of the genocide a voice. When her fellow player, the outstanding singer Holland Andrews, sang: “They raped us. They raped our children”, it went right to my heart.

As dodgy as it seems to collect all the “African” performances of the festival under one umbrella, the diversity of the five pieces of and with African artists from such different places like Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon shows that “contemporary African dance” is indeed a big tent. Serge Aimé Coulibaly's “Kalakuta Republik” kicked off the festival with its homage to the legendary musician and political activist Nigerian Fela Kuti, who invented the Afrobeat genre and died 20 years ago this year. In a performance, as flamboyant as Kuti himself, Coulibaly and his team of seven dancers tossed and turned in a crisscross of smooth, danceable choreographies, repeated again and again, in the end accelerating into total decadence. “How can art be political?”, the performance asked, giving Kuti's mantra “Music is the weapon” new life: “Dance is the weapon.”

Another one of this year's socially-conscious performers was the hip hop “artivist”, Zora Snake. His 20-minute outdoor site-specific “Au-delá de l’humain” was all about symbols: from the wooden coffin he dragged through the streets to the Cameroonian flag draped on top. In the performance, the white-painted Snake was focused and intense, in the artist talk, the Cameroonian artist was all smiles. The performance also played on its multiple audiences-- what may have seemed random for some spectators, happily following Snake’s direction to raise their arms, may have carried more meaning to other audience members. Like salt that he spread around a plot of earth outside HAU2, for example, symbolized purification. His dead ancestors who fought for the freedom of their country are still with him, brought back to life by the traditional “dance of death”, Snake told us. “I will not detach myself from my tradition.”

In Rudi van der Merwe's “Trophée”, the symbolism was more transparent to this European spectator. With his specific and personal experiences with hunting culture and apartheid structures that linger in postcolonial South Africa, van der Merwe managed to cast light on universal issues: the human urge to conquer, possess and exploit. To “make your person larger through exploitation of others,” as van der Merwe himself put it. Radhouane El Meddeb's “Facing the sea, for tears to turn into laughter” was also focused and topical, dealing with the Tunisian revolution and its aftermath. Like Munyaneza, he is in a way an “artist in exile”, having left Tunisia more than 20 years ago and has thus “missed” the revolt against the dictatorship. It is probably a matter of preference, but I found El Meddeb's piece less sophisticated than Munyaneza’s when it comes to representing such a serious matter as the Tunisian revolution: the bombastic singing while staring at the “sea” exceeded my cheesiness threshold. The rest of the audience, however, seemed to be enthusiastic about the evening, and indeed “Facing the sea, for tears to turn into laughter” was a relevant reminder of what Tunisia has gone and is going through.

When Fela Kuti died, over a million people gathered in the biggest city of Niger, Lagos, to pay homage to the national icon. Kuti was buried in orange trousers, pants, a flower-patterned shirt and with a huge joint in one hand. The performances by African artists at this year's festival reminded us that artist-activists like Kuti are still needed. As Virve Sutinen put in her opening speech: “This is the year of revolution. We need activists and dreamers, and we are proud to present both on the festival”. They most certainly did that.
Latest Blog Posts

Feminism 2017
by Lily Kelting, 2 Sep 2017

Are robots the solution to the refugee “crisis”?

by Nina Branner, 31 Aug 2017

A couple of strong women
by Nina Branner, 30 Aug 2017

O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao!
by Lily Kelting, 29 Aug 2017

After the revolution: a focus on Africa
by Nina Branner, 26 Aug 2017

Doomsday at the bio-farm
by Nina Branner, 22 Aug 2017

Jessica and me review
by Lily Kelting, 21 Aug 2017

The art of homage: About Kazuo Ohno meets Caen Amour
by Lily Kelting, 19 Aug 2017

A breath of fresh air in “to a simple rock and roll . . . song.”
by Nina Branner, 18 Aug 2017

FUN! review
by Nina Branner, 15 Aug 2017

In Bodies We Trust: Brenda Dixon-Gottschild and Hellmut Gottschild refuse to give the word the last word
by Lily Kelting, 14 Aug 2017

La Ribot Looks Back
by Lily Kelting, 11 Aug 2017

We’re back y’all!
by Lily Kelting & Nina Branner, 7 Aug 2017
The Bloggers

Lily Kelting Born 1986, Stage editor, Exberliner magazine. Works internationally as a freelance dramaturg, writer, and editor. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California, San Diego. Postdoc at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Originally from New York City, she lives in Berlin.

Nina Branner is a freelance cultural journalist from Denmark, based in Berlin. She has studied at the University of Copenhagen, Berlin University of the Arts and at Copenhagens Academy for Music, Dance and Performance with awarded choreographer Kasper Ravnhøj. She writes about theater, performance and music for publications like Weekendavisen and Gaffa. Writing for Exberliner since March 2016.