IMPRESSIONS: Germaine Acogny in Olivier Dubois' "Mon élue noire (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2" at BAM
BAM Fisher (Fishman Space)
October 4-7, 2017
Choreographer: Olivier Dubois / Dancer: Germaine Acogny
Music: Igor Stravinsky — Le Sacre du Printemps
Lighting Design: Emmanuel Gary / Costume Design: Chrystel Zingiro
Technical Direction: Robert Pereira / Assistant Choreographer: Cyril Accorsi
Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is dance’s equivalent to Shakespeare’s sonnets. Nostalgic reverence attracts artists to reinvent these classics. Ballet du Nord Director Olivier Dubois’ ongoing intrigue of Stravinsky’s compositions led him to Germaine Acogny — “the mother of contemporary African dance.” Together, they composed Mon élue noire (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2. This work is part of Dubois’ collection Sacre(s) du Printemps.
The music, Le Sacre du Printemp, starts vivaciously. A tiny flame flickers, dancing on and off. The smell of burning tobacco fills the air. Gradually, the light reveals Acogny crouching in a vertical, transparent box. Soft light ricochets off the sheer lining that swaddles the container’s black frame.
Acogny wears a black bra with a rectangle of black fabric wrapped around black pants. A tobacco pipe hangs from her lips. She rhythmically chugs her bare feet into the hollow platform. This steady boom charges through the polyrhythmic musical composition.
Contorted shadows hang like a willow tree over her hunched frame. She looks back at the audience alert and wide-eyed. Her hands and feet move in quick flicks. Her elbows push through space while her hips sway in opposition. She releases the fabric from her waist to become a shawl, then a mask. Her body contracts into a faceless figure as she repetitiously thrusts air from her solar plexus. This image reappears when she pushes her face into the darkest edges of the box. Her face disappears while her body remains lit.
Acogny’s voice penetrates the space with guttural laughs that morph into vocalized melodies. In one moment, she lounges with her pipe to deliver a French monologue. The music harmoniously waltzes in the background.
Theatrical lighting complements sound and teases with limited visibility. We are left in the dark during long pauses only to catch flashes of silhouettes and commanding stances. I long for sustained light to see everything.
Without warning, Acogny lifts three floor panels and descends into the floor. White smoke engulfs her floating torso. She conjures white paint from somewhere below and smacks it against the black panels. Although calculated, these frantic white lines surround her with a hint of aggression.
She presses against the edges of her confinement, daring to escape. White paint oozes from her onto the outside of the box. Tufts of clouds whip around her frame, and then she disappears into the abyss.
Ferocious. Primal. Contained. Harmonic dissonance marries Acogny, Dubois, and Stravinsky into a unique partnership that allows you to hear the music differently through visual portrayal. Call it an ancestral superpower, sophisticated maturity (Acogny is 73 years old), or both. The black chosen one proves that she can occupy the vastness of an entire room while contained in a box.