01-12-2022 t/m 20-10-2023
Bij de residentie van SHIFFT deed Alioune Diagne onderzoek naar zes generaties vrouwen in zijn familie. “Mijn oma was een nakomeling van de vrouwen van ‘Nder’, een groep vrouwen die ervoor kozen om samen te komen en zichzelf te offeren. Liever dat, dan tot slaaf gemaakt worden door Mauritaanse troepen die Senegal binnentrokken.” Deze vrouwen van Nder worden gezien als een belangrijke voorloper van de feministische beweging in de Senegalese geschiedenis.
Essay by Babah Tarawally, written after seeing the studio presentation of Alioune Diagne on October 20 in Palladio, Utrecht. Alioune was in residence at the Utrecht dance company SHIFFT in October to work towards a premiere next year. This essay was written under the editorship of Domein voor Kunstkritiek, commissioned by SHIFFT. Het Domein and SHIFFT have been working together since 2022 in the search for new words for modern dance and in involving new audiences in the performances of SHIFFT & residents.
Text: Babah Tarawally
Essay on the studio presentation and residency of Alioune Diagne
I step outside my home on a raining Friday afternoon to witness a story that is ancient and traditional. A story that tells us that women fighting patriarchy and inequality did not start today. Choreographer and dancer Alioune Diagne from Senegal shed light on this theme by researching six generations of women in his family. His grandmother was a descendant of the women of ‘Nder’, a group of women who chose to come together and sacrifice themselves rather than be enslaved by Mauritanian troops who invaded Senegal in the 18thcentury. These women of Nder are seen as an important precursor of the feminist movement in Senegalese history. To finish his residency and research at SHIFFT he closed this period with an open studio performance. A moment to share his discoveries before he moves on in his artistic process.
Art is for me a mirror for us who do not see ourselves reflect immediately as we look into the mirror. We need first to dig in to our own consciousness in order to see what it reflects of us and our lives. As life does not start at conception, so is art’s creation. It has always been there, in the past, present and future. The same goes to the performance we are about to see. It started before I made the decision to see it, step out of my comfortable home in the rain and as I wait in the kitchen of the building before the door opens to the room where the performance will take place.
I arrive at Palladio theater in Utrecht with a dozen people invited to see the performance and at the end interact and share our experiences. We seat clustered around a table in the kitchen with tea, coffee and snacks as part of the performance. The roasted aroma of onions and tomato’s intends to stimulate our sense of smell. After half an hour waiting, the door to the room where Alioune is performing goes wide open. We are ushered to go in.
As we step in the room, a praise singing song blasts our ears. We take seat on chairs lined up like the little silver of moon you might notice in the sky. I look up my Shazam app on my phone to look up the origin of the song been played, I immediately grasp the urgency of this historic act of defiance that the performer wants to tell us. The song with its repeated beats is probably meant to bring us into a state of trance. Because it is only with trance that a human can fully master the ego. The song is a praise song depicting powerful Senegalese female warriors who fought against French colonization and Moorish invasion in the 19th century. The tail of this historic event will appear at the end of the performance as we engage with Alioune about these powerful female warriors. He will then tell us the background story of his performance and how his grandmother played the greatest role in his life.
I am not only here to see the performance but also to be a medium to prepare the world to receive it. Another reason for my invitation is my recent book about manhood titled De Getemde Man (The Tamed Man) and the relationship I described with my grandmother. Alioune and I share that grandmother love and that similarity is the foundation for our artistic drive. I spent the early stages of life with my grandmother while Alioune lived with his grandmother till he was 21 years old. He says jokingly until he was snatched away by his Dutch partner and brought five years ago to the Netherlands.
Inside the room and in front of us stands Alioune in a posture resembling that of a praying mantis. He is covered with different types of clothing, some with colorful patterns on it. A rope on one of the clothes he holds with his mouth, like a pipe that feeds him with air.
After seating it takes a few more minutes before Alioune starts moving, building up his coordinated steps slowly. In total silence I experience a human spirit navigating through movement and dance. The dance in those clothes tied around him is a struggle in itself. As he dances, he frees himself from the bundle of clothes tied on him. He takes them off one by one and lays them on the floor. Each one seems to represent a chapter in his history. Taking the clothes off his body reveals his nude upper body, showing his strong built of muscles. His lower body is covered with a long skirt that represents his femininity. This too is a statement, telling us that his feminine energy is in balance with his masculine.
A short intermezzo ensues as he reaches out to his phone to change the song to a light form of trance (Clouds, 2023), produced by Sash Sid. I check this one too on my Shazam application. Is it a song of freedom or redemption? Or his transition from traditional Senegalese song to Western style trance/techno? I ask myself. Alioune now walks around the floor as if to pay his respect to each of the clothes lying on the floor. He choses one to lie down on, twisting his body like a snake. After that he stands up and walks to a skeleton mask with a head supported by a metal bar and feet. Is that his grandmother to whom this performance is dedicated? Standing there facing us he bows down as a sign that the thirty minutes performance has come to an end. We applaud.
We enter the second phase as Alioune walks towards us. He is open to questions or reflections from us. The way we see it may not be the same to what he intended. That is the risk involved when artists are asked to explain their craft. I see the surprise on his face as few of us interpret the performance with our own gaze. I see tradition versus religion and modernity, I say. Another person asks a question about what the pieces of clothes stand for. The black clothes are interpreted as death in the West. Alioune listens. With every question he relates his family history, an aunt who is barren and how society looks on her. An uncle who is a tailor and where his fascination for clothes comes from. At the end it is a performance telling a story of himself, his family and his ancestors.
We say that the African soul is monistic, comprising of body and mind manifesting the same reality. While Western dualism proposes two fundamental substances or realities. Alioune’s story is a monistic one embodying the past, present and the future. All in one.