Dancer and choreographer
Senegalese dancer and choreographer Germaine Acogny is known as "the mother of African dance." She established her first dance studio in Senegal's capital, Dakar, in 1968 and has since become a major figure in African dance, blending contemporary dance with traditional African styles. She has been choreographer and artistic director of many dance companies and studios, including Mudra Afrique in Senegal, and Studio-Ecole-Ballet-Théaťre du 3è Monde in Toulouse, France. In 1997 she established the International Centre for Traditional and Contemporary African Dances, L'Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal; she is also the founder of the Jant-Bi Company.
Germaine Acogny was born in Benin in 1944 and moved to Dakar, Senegal, when she was ten years old. In 1962 she moved to France, but returned to Dakar in 1968 to establish a dance studio. After working for several years with Maurice Béjart in Brussels, Belgium, Acogny became director of Mudra Afrique International in Dakar in 1977. Mudra Dakar was established by Béjart with support from the Senegalese president S.J. Senghor. Acogny held the post there until 1982. Acogny's background in traditional dance can be traced to her grandmother, a Yoruba priestess, but what makes her work significant is the way it combines contemporary dance with traditional African dance to create a style that is very much her own.
When Mudra Afrique closed down in 1982, Acogny returned to Brussels to work again with Béjart on workshops in African dance. She took the project on tour in Europe and to the village of Casamance in the south of Senegal. By then she was developing a reputation as a choreographer, producer, and teacher of dance. In 1985 she collaborated with Arona N'Diaye on the show Ye'ou, the Awakening, which won the London Dance and Performance Award in 1991. With her husband, Helmut Vogt, Acogny founded the Studio-Ecole-Ballet-Théaťre du 3è Monde in Toulouse, France, in 1985. After a four-year break from performance in 1987 she was given her first solo performance in Sahel and worked with musician Peter Gabriel as a dancer and choreographer.
In the 1990s Acogny continued to perform, for example at Peter Gabriel's World of Music and Dance Festival in 1993. But it was as a choreographer and producer that she began to have greater influence. In 1996 Dance Magazine reviewed one of Acogny's performances in Brazil, where she presented Z, a dance based on the life of Zumbi, a famous Brazilian leader from the seventeenth century. Acogny used the classical ballet dancers of the City of Sao Paolo Ballet. Ana Francisco Ponzio explained Acogny's unique style: "Uniting traditional and modern elements, she has developed a technique of her own which values the torso's fluidity above feet well rooted in the ground. 'It is often said that classical ballet is the base. In my opinion, it is African dance that offers the basic precepts, since it respects the body without distorting it,' says the choreographer."
Acogny's passion for African dance and culture led her back to Senegal in 1995, where she established L'Ecole des Sables, a dance school that has become a center for African dance and is visited by dancers from around the world. Although workshops are not held every year, L'Ecole des Sables has an impressive reputation. After the first series of workshops was held in 1998, Acogny and a group of dancers formed the Jant-Bi Company, which has performed in Europe, Africa, and many other countries around the world, including the United States and Australia. Its first production was Le coq est mort (1999).
Besides performance and choreography Acogny has been involved with promoting African dance around the world. She has been especially influential in France, where she has her European base at the Studio-Ecole-Ballet-Théaťre du 3è Monde in Toulouse. In 1997 she became Artist Director of the Dance Section of African Creation Department in Paris and of the Choreographic Meetings of Contemporary African Dance, posts that she held until 2000. The French government rewarded her by making her Chevalier of the Order of Merit and Officer of Arts and Letters of the French Republic. She is also Knight of the National Order of the Lion of Senegal. In April 2005 the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts presented her with a $10,000 grant to support her work.
The style of Acogny's work and that of Jant-Bi is physically strenuous and high energy, but she continues to perform in 2005. She tours the world performing, teaching, choreographing, and producing, and is one of the foremost promoters of African dance. She has even been described as "the African Martha Graham," a reference to the choreographer who championed American dance in the 1930s. In 1996 Dance Magazine described her as "the first lady of modern African dance."
Danse Africaine, as African Dance, Weingarten, 1980.
(With Arona N-Kiaye) Ye'ou, the Awakening, 1985. Sahel, 1987.
Afrique, ce corps memorable, 1989.
Yewa, eau sublime, 1994.
Le coq est mort, 1999.
At a Glance …
Born Germaine Acogny in 1944 in Benin, West Africa; married Helmut Vogt.
Career: Established first dance studio in 1968 in Dakar, Senegal; worked with Maurice Béjart in Brussels, Belgium; Mudra Afrique, Dakar, cofounder and director, 1977–82; Studio-Ecole-Ballet-Théaťre du 3è Monde, Toulouse, France, founder and director, 1985–; International Centre for Traditional and Contemporary African Dances, L'Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, founder, 1997; Dance Section of African Creation Department in Paris and of the Choreographic Meetings of Contemporary African Dance, artist director, 1997–2000; Jant-Bi dance company, Daka, Senegal, 1998–; international performer and choreographer.
Awards: Chevalier of the Order of Merit and Officer of Arts and Letters of the French Republic; Knight of the National Order of the Lion of Senegal; London Dance and Performance Award for Ye'ou, the Awakening, 1991; Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts award, 2005.
Addresses: Office—Jant-Bi, 22, rue Thiong, BP 22626, 15523, Dakar, Senegal; 24 rue Léonce-Castelbou, 31000, Toulouse, France.
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, May 22, 2002.
Chicago Sun Times, February 25, 2005.
Dance Magazine, April 1996, p. 100; May 2004, p. 69; April, 2005, p. 24.
Newark Star Ledger (NJ), February 12, 2004.
Danse Africaine, www.danse-africaine.net/ (September 14, 2005).
L'Ecole des Sables de Toubab Dialaw Senegal, www.jant-bi-acogny.com/ (September 14, 2005).
"Germaine Acogny," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (September 14, 2005).
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