Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Anani Dodji SanouviMerging differences

Published in 2007icon-clockTime to read: 4m55s
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When it came to choosing who was to be her protégé for a year, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker took a risk. In opting for Anani Dodji Sanouvi, a young dancer originally from Togo, she was fully aware of how different their approaches were. That was precisely what interested her – the difference to be explored by both of them.

by Pierre Assouline 2007
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
    The Mentor
  • Anani Dodji Sanouvi
    The Protégé

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Anani Dodji Sanouvi have one thing in common: their love of dancing. To turn that into a passion shared between a mentor and her protégé, all it took was for each of them to put something of themselves into it. The famous Flemish choreographer and the young African dancer did much more than that: they made the effort to get to know each other. At first, their differences were daunting.

The first time Anani set foot in the Brussels studios, he sat on the ground with his back against the studio wall and watched, saying to himself over and over, until it became an inner echo: “What can I possibly do in that space? How can she get 15 people to move together in such a small place?” Positioning movements in space and time is De Keersmaeker’s art – a magic that seems natural but was in fact developed over years of intensive work on gesture, movement and mastery of space, and also on music, the backbone.

The first time De Keersmaeker asked him to do something, it was difficult for both of them. Anani did what he was told, but it wasn’t right. How could they converse in the same language when one of them read music and the other didn’t? So she suggested a different phrase of dance, leaving him free to interpret it – bringing him into the studio first to listen to the music, composed by Steve Reich: “And as it happens, one of the influences on this composer is the music of the Ewe, an African ethnic group... which I belong to! Incredible, isn’t it?” he recalls. “The way that Anne Teresa wanted me to dance to this music unsettled me a lot. Her way of hearing and understanding the rhythms, which are very strong in this piece, were quite different from those that my culture, rich with African polyrhythms instilled in me. I got a bit confused, I did my best.” But it wasn’t enough. So he went into a corner and began to watch the others.

The first time De Keersmaeker explained movement to him as seeing a spiral in a square, he raised his eyes to heaven. It wasn’t that he found it bad, but it wasn’t his way of looking at dancing. His way puts more faith in instinct, intuition, improvisation. From his point of view, the way things are done in this part of the West is too mathematical, too grammatical, geometric, rigid. Then he realised that she was dancing to the structure while he was dancing to the rhythms, and that these two ways of comprehending the music are at the same time opposed and complementary. De Keersmaeker understood, and let him do it his way.

The differences between mentor and protégé eventually found a balance between the intuitive and the analytical. In the end, what Anani will do will be neither contemporary dance nor African dance: “What I dance is Anani!” Everything influences his body, which conserves the memory of all the dances of his inner Africa. De Keersmaeker recognises this: “He’s like a sun – he has extraordinary radiance.” De Keersmaeker is visibly moved when she sees him dance in Brussels with a friend from Togo: “That’s happiness, because everything is flowing straight from the heart.”

There is a difference between two categories of artists: those who dance, and those who are dancers. “Anani is definitely a dancer”, she says, no small compliment, coming from her.

Extracted from an article written by Pierre Assouline for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2006/2007 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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