Accepted Paper:

Senegalese dancers, Europe and the global market  


Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

For Senegalese performers, Europe is a source of both artistic envy and contempt. Meanwhile, European choreographers increasingly look towards Africa for inspiration. This paper explores the sociological dimensions at stake in the interaction between the European and the West African dance scenes.

Paper long abstract:

In the Dakarois dance world, comments referring to the use of local dances as a source of inspiration in European contemporary dance are commonplace. Senegalese dance people routinely discuss their interaction with the European scene in terms of their creativity being 'exploited', performers being pushed into 'indecency' for the satisfaction of White audiences, or so-called 'African dance' being sought after as a potentially profitable 'market'. But people also display an ambivalent attitude towards a European dance scene which is simultaneously envied for its perceived wealth and despised for the lack of 'urgency' of its creations. Meanwhile, an increasing number of European choreographers acknowledge Africa as a source of inspiration, where fruitful collaborations can be established with artists trained in different bodily techniques. Yet the received wisdom is that the choreographic experiments that have taken place on the continent over the past three decades are a simplified copy of European choreographic forms. How are we, then, to make sense of this contradiction?

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Dakar as well as on historical data, in this paper I argue that both worlds have long developed in interplay with each other. The paper also seeks to go beyond creative issues and ask what socio-economic factors lay behind the increasing to-and-fro movement of performers between Europe and Africa. From a Senegalese perspective, I suggest that choreographic encounters have become a highly valued route towards international careers and migration. But from a European perspective, the renewed interest in African performance is also entangled in economic issues. In France for example, the gradual withdrawal of state subsidies for dance companies has made it necessary to find new sources of funding, and therefore new ways of framing choreographic work. In a European context in which migration has become a sensitive political issue, it is tempting to re-frame the performing arts in terms of 'cross-cultural exchange'.

In short, this paper seeks to explore some of the artistic and sociological dimensions at stake in the long-standing interaction between European and African performers, choreographers, audiences and state institutions.

Panel W062
Dance, Europe and the ethnographic encounter