A DISCUSSION ABOUT TECHNIQUE, THE
CONTEMPORARY, AND SPIRITUALITY WITH KOFFI KÔKÔ AND ISMAEL IVO. MODERATED
By Sabina Holzer
corpus: In the description of your workshops you say:
"Dance is a ritual: a sacred ritual, a social ritual", or:
"Creation is movement: and the sacred dance arises from the need to
identify with the eternal round of the creative forces in the cosmos."
Koffi Kôkô states that he is a Voodoo Priest. Why is it important for you to
point out the spiritual aspect in your work?
For me the spiritual aspect is important and I want to share this. I want the
people to know what it is if one has a spiritual way. I also mentioned it
because I cannot be no Voodoo Priest. It is a part of me. It is not that I
cannot be a doctor because I am a Voodoo-Priest, it is not that I am a Voodoo
Priest and therefore I cannot be a dancer or choreographer. I don't want the
people to mystify this issue. Of course my first dance came from the ritual.
The ritual is an essence in Voodoo. The knowledge and all you need to know
comes with the dance: how to work with your body, to know the rhythms, to know
the history and how to relate to the different energies in nature. Each
divinity has his rhythm, his dance, his movement. Before people tended to think
that we don't have dance classes in Africa. They thought African people have it
in their blood or something. It is not like that. I was in a convent and I
learned with a teacher.
mean through Voodoo you learn all those different aspects?
Kôkô: Yes, it
is a school. You learn the theology.
corpus: Do you
use the different dances and rhythm in your class now?
Kôkô: After I
left highschool, I worked with different groups and came to Europe. I learned
different disciplines, to get to know what is dance in Europe. I wanted to know
the different techniques – classic, modern, contemporary. I did research to get
to know what is the theory, what is the mind behind the dance. This helped me
to understand what dance is for European people. I also had meetings with
different artists from Asia, Africa etc. These meetings are very important in
the life of an artist as you can imagine. This knowledge is related to my
career as a dancer and choreographer. I pretend sometimes that I am universal,
because I feel like that sometimes. But I really try to be more and more open.
And I never forget to pray to my divinities and the ceremonies in Benin.
"Today the young dancers burn out
so quickly. They don't have patience anymore.
They don't develop."
Ismael Ivo: Me as an African-Brazilian and Koffi Kôkô who
is an African dancer have been in the foreground for years. We took from the
ritual, from the traditional roots and connected this knowledge to the
contemporary. Today we are at a crossroads of the definition of what is
contemporary. At the moment we don't know anymore what contemporary dance is.
There have been a lot of different developments, a lot of different moves, from
the classical dance by Forsythe, construction, deconstruction, modern,
postmodern, post-postmodern, minimalism. We don't know anymore what is
contemporary and where to get other sources which we can connect to the
contemporary. Also right now in the latest development of contemporary dance in
Africa there is a kind of awaking, a reorientation happening.
corpus: What is
contemporary in your opinion?
Ivo: Our generation, which I could put … okay, Koffi Kôkô,
Susanne Linke and myself, we really went very deep trying to find our way. Me
from my Afro-Brazilian roots, Koffi from his African roots, Susanne Linke from
her German roots. We developed our path into contemporary dance. Susanne Linke
is not Mary Wigman, but her roots are from her. Today the young dancers very
rarely become personalities like Susanne or Koffi, because they burn out so
quickly. They don't have patience anymore. If they have some talent, they
immediately want to do as much as possible. It is too quick. They don't
corpus: What do you mean by that?.
Ivo: When you look at the base of dance, then you will notice
that dance has always been a ritual. Human beings celebrated life and nature
and started to imitate nature. That was how dance was born. You need not to
look at African roots, in the Greek roots you also have the rituals of
Dionysos. They were also about trance and cultivation. Dance always has been
connected to celebration and spirituality and man setting himself up to observe
and respond to nature. Today we live in this incredible world, and dance has to
respond to this world.
corpus: In which way do you think one could respond?
should not respond out of the blue. You have to have a standing point from
where you can respond.
contemporary dance today a very heterogeneous field of practice and theory, in
which also different cultures are brought together?
Ivo: Yes, but
we have to be a bit careful, otherwise we end in the global age like United
Colors of Benetton.
that is not what I meant.
Ivo: Yes, but
this is a bit the danger. It is important that we observe and we learn from the
other cultures. We should not try to press the things together, like a fashion.
Our collaboration with Yoshi Oida is remarkable, or with George Tabori, Johann
Kresnik. We were open for a dialogue and through this we found a new path.
mean theatre and dance opens ways for dialogue?
absolutely – for cultural and spiritual dialogue.
"Dance is ephemeral. You start a dialogue.
We call that a spiritual force. It means to go inside and
search deeply what you want to do."
kind of symbols and gestures do you find relevant to communicate nowadays? What
do you think is important to communicate as a dancer and choreographer?
Kôkô: You have
to develop the gestures and symbols in relation to your work. Dance is ephemeral.
You start a dialogue. We call that a spiritual force. It means to go inside and
search deeply what you want to do. After that you develop symbols to
communicate your experience and your process. It is important that you learn
how to dance and make a choreography, but at a certain point you have to dance
with your honesty, your humility and also with your strength. We talk about the
power in nature – it is our nature. From there you can take something
completely neutral, you can call it the way you want. But it is important that
you work from your base, from your work, when you start to do
it. It is important that you learn what your dance is. People think that
dancers are narcissistic, but we pass this generation now. In the 21st century
dance is not anymore a person dancing virtuoso and the others watch.
corpus: You mean
we have a different dialogue with the audience now?
like Ismael Ivo said, it is about dialoguing. Also to see what is the answer to
this contemporary time we are living in.
Ivo: I thought about something recently and I want to put
this here: I am a post-exotic being.
Ivo: Koffi is also post-exotic. Exotism does not interest me
any longer. "I am the Brazilian! I am the African!" This is over for
Ivo: So what do we think about "global" culture?
People nowadays mostly have a lot of access to different information. What
Koffi was saying is very important. The people have access to form and
movements, but soon comes a burn-out phase. Then they don't know where to look,
how to renew. You really have to go and listen to yourself, how you want to
respond to this society. When you look at African dance, you see there is a
code of gestures and movements which comes from a desire for communication.
People often mystify that, but we humans simply need connections for
expression. There is the need of translating desire. Classical ballet also has
its code. It is about the body and how to understand the body. But I think what
Koffi said is fundamentally important: if you respond, it is not only to get a
certain style or fashion of movement but to find a response to this concrete
corpus: You mean to connect to the environment?
Ivo: Yes, how to take your body and respond to this environment.
Very often you take a certain code from a traditional base and you respond. (He stands up, doing some traditional
African steps, with the arms opening and closing. He moves backwards with these
steps until he crashes against the iron wall of the Arsenal kitchen. He
laughs.) I am dialoguing with the
world today, but I come from my tradition.
"Voodoo is a profound way of discovering these
to understand our purpose today, looking for light. But the Indian
culture does the same, Yoga does the same."
which way do you combine or separate the profane and the spiritual in your
work? The question is related to dance training. Often methods and practices
are used which come from spiritual practice, but are applied as body/dance
Kôkô: When I
understand profane, as it is in French, it means somebody who does not really
know what spirituality is. We live now in a time where there is not just one
way of spirituality and the different ways all point in one direction. They are
connected through the same search in the direction of the light. Certain codes
change but the profane maybe does not know what is waiting for him afterwards.
For me spirituality is not mysticism. Spirituality is what is now, what is
happening now. It is how we evolve in relation to our culture, our society, and
never forget that we have this force of nature. So we have to ask for
permission, we have to be humble.
Ivo: I agree
with Koffi: What is spirituality? It is not mysticism, because in reality we
all probably try to understand the meaning of life. And this you can see in
many different cultures. We try to find the clue of life and try to make life
relevant. Be it with Yoga or dance. Sometimes we apply categories. It is a
discrimination. Like images which come from commercials representing Voodoo.
Voodoo is made by Hollywood.
is a profound way of discovering these connections, to understand our purpose
today, looking for light. But Indian culture does the same, Yoga does the same.
would you recommend to young upcoming artists?
Ivo: There is
a certain point of education which brings the attention to the body, exactly
how you say. People can develop so much technically, but they never become
artists. There is always a high point, and if you get to this information
without honesty and support, you are lost. You need the humility of translating
ideas, to find connection with you in response to the world. You have to find
bases, find a ground, spiritual connection, things related to simplicity. It is
not about doing African dance. You have to find a way to dialogue with this
information. That was exactly what we [Ivo together with Kôkô and Oida, ed.]
did in "Die Zofen" by Genet in 2001. We took those different characters and
translated them into a theatrical way, in a contemporary form. But you have to
have something you are looking for. That is the basis. Then your body has to be
worked. But you have to have something inside to give. My motto is a strong
belief. Belief makes you curious, makes you search, research and start to
translate. It is like a metamorphosis into a new type of expression and
"I find myself talking to young dancers about
learning how to listen to the silence inside themselves. Through that
I think you achieve a certain knowledge."
Kôkô: I find
myself talking to young dancers about learning how to listen to the silence
inside themselves. Through that I think you achieve a certain knowledge. Then
it is easier to arrive and come in touch with what is dance. This is my
listen to the silence inside?
Kôkô: Yes, it
is very important. The most important point you realise that after you arrived
and you know you can bring your legs here and there. What comes after that?
From the silence you can go and communicate. It is very important. I think many
young people have no time for this. We talk so much about contemporary dance
is a lot of access to information.
between this information you always have to find the quietness and silence from
inside before you go outside. This is something very important.
corpus: I think
it is something for every artist. It is a place you come back to.
Kôkô: Yes, it
is the basis and the start for movement. If you think dance has a body and the
body has different kinds of movements: undulation, staccato, etc. … But
before this the movement starts from a certain point. When you want to develop
yourself and you want to start to dance and you don't come to this point, I think
you miss the point of the movement. You miss the point where the movement
starts and how you can communicate.
mean if the mind is too full the movement disappears?
Kôkô: Dance is
ephemeral. You can make a photo or a video from a piece, but when you are not
there in the moment that it happens, you miss it. When you miss the point where
movement starts, you miss the movement. This is one big trip. I say that dance
is ephemeral, but the dancer is not. I think we pass the time where European people
think – I mean in classical and modern
dance – when you are fourty years old you'd better stop dancing because you
cannot dance or jump as before. But real dance is not in the jump. The big
dancer who I respect is the dancer who passes technique. If you dance and I can
see the technique, for me you are not dancing. It is an application of
technique. The dancer needs to make you forget his technique. I think dancers
can be more quiet and have more time with this silence. Like this they will
find when the moment for transition comes.
(August 20, 2008)