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Sunday, June 24, 2012

How could you not know or choose to ignore great suffering— Linyekula

Eighty-nine years later, “not much” change!
Re-reporting, editing by Carolyn Bennett

Art interrogates art as censor
Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula re-stages 1923 ‘negro-cubist fantasy’ ballet (‘La création du monde’ aka ‘the first negro ballet’) in Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide aired an interview last week with Faustin Linyekula and asked why he recreated or restated a World War I era ballet. He first lays out historical facts that must have been known but were ignored by the early creators of “La création du monde.”

After the tragedy that had been World War I in Europe, Linyekula said, “some intellectuals in Paris, in their quest for a new spring, turned toward Africa and refused to see the real Africa, or what was going in Africa at that time. They chose to see only the image they themselves were projecting onto Africa.”

However, “the 1920s was a period of history when the colonial system as a system of economic exploitation was getting organized on a very big scale.
There was World War I on African soil; Germany had colonies in the Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Togo, Namibia.

Thousands of Africans died in World War I in Europe?

More than 200,000 people were recruited in the Congo as porters for the Belgian troops that were sent to fight the Germans on the African soil.

In the Congo, people were forced into slavery — because forced labor is a form of slavery — and the population decreased because of that.

“So how can you think of Paradise when people are going through this?”

Through contemporary art (ballet, spoken word), Faustin Linyekula questions the World War I era creators of the creation of the world or the Negro Ballet.
What could you not know? How did you choose to ignore?

How could they not see the suffering?

Why does Europe continue to ignore the real face of Africa?

Why does Africa continue to see itself through the European colonial prism?

Contemporary creative process

His process of creation or recreation, Linyekula said, began with reading a book about the image of black people in French theater. There was a chapter on the ballet “La création du monde,” which became known as ‘the first Negro ballet’ in the language of that era, he said; “and I realized that the image given of Africa in the 1920s (a very naïve, pretty, exotic image),” now close to “a hundred years later, has not changed much.”

In the third act of Linyekula’s 2012 reconstruction, the black dancer speaks aloud [questioning the 1920s ballet creators]: In your research, ‘you probably saw my ancestors in those [ethnographic films of Congolese dancers];
Congolese dancer and choreographer
Faustin Linyekula 
[w]hat kinds of stories were they telling through their dances?

Were they stories of subjugation, exploitation, mutilations? [images censored in the earlier ballet]

The politics of art

Concluding the interviewwith Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Faustin Linyekula said, “I believe that poetry is … a space that can question how we live together and, when you start addressing this, you enter the political field.

“One thing about political statements is that most of the time people claim to have answers; yet, [in this ballet], I don’t pretend to have any answers.

“I have questions and to share them in the public space becomes a political context.”

Sources and notes

“Congolese Faustin Linyekula re-stages 1923 ‘negro-cubist fantasy’ ballet in Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris, posted May 16, 2012,

The Ballet Suédois performed the premiere of La Création du monde in Paris in 1923. Combining the talents of Fernand Léger, Blaise Cendrars, Darius Milhaud and Jean Börlin, this ‘negro-cubist fantasy’ conveys the influence of Harlem jazz and, a few years after the end of the war, draws on the energy of ‘primitive’ arts to herald in a new world: a hint of escape in the midst of the Roaring Twenties.

“Having in mind this project for many years, Faustin Linyekula restages the earlier ballet that had blindly turned its back on the brutal colonial reality of an era marked by forcible enrollment, extreme violence and coercion in African colonies. Moving between present and past, this ‘re-creation of the world’ reflects on a ‘collective’ history: how do / did Africa and Europe observe one another? And can the past really be shared?”

Faustin Linyekula and the Ballet de Lorraine present: La création du monde 1923-2012

Linyekula’s new version premièred May 24 and 25 in Brussels, May 31 at the Opéra national de Lorraine-Nancy, June 13 and 14 at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, and June 20 and 23at the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris.

Artistic direction: Faustin Linyekula
Stage design: Jean-Christophe Lanquetin
Light: Virginie Galas
Music: Fabrizio Cassol
Costumes: XULY.Bët / Tag : Brok
Artistic assistant: Christophe Béranger

In dialogue with the Ballets Suédois
Reconstitution: Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer
Ballet by Blaise Cendrars. Music by Darius Milhaud
Setting and costumes: Fernand Léger. Original choreography: Jean Börlin
Light (reconstitution): Olivier Bauer
Artsitic assistant (reconstitution): Isabelle Bourgeais

With: Bulat Akhmejanov, Jonathan Archambault, Grégory Beaumont, Philipp Berlin, Agnès Boulanger, Petros Chrkhoyan, Justin Cumine, Morgan de Quelen, Fabio Dolce, Phanuel Erdmann, Valérie Ferrando, Baptiste Fisson, Marc Galvez, Irma Hoffren, Tristan Ihne, Laure Lescoffy, Valérie Ly-Cuong, Yohann Rifosta, Sakiko Oïshi, Joris Perez, Marion Rastouil, Elisa Ribbes, Florence Viennot, Marie-Séverine Hurteloup and Djodjo Kazadi.

Production: Ballet de Lorraine – Centre chorégraphique national de Lorraine – Direction: Petter Jacobsson
In coproduction with the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris and the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels.
In collaboration with the Fondation Fluxum and the Théâtre Gérard Philippe, Frouard.
Supported by the KVS Theater, Brussels.

See also: www.kabako.org

In the theater of One World, a media project in pursuit of cultural diplomacy and international understanding, http://theaterofoneworld.org/2012/05/16/congolese-faustin-linyekula-re-stages-1923-negro-cubist-fantasy-ballet-in-brussels-amsterdam-and-paris/


“Africa: How Could They Not See the Suffering?” (Hélène Michaud, photo: Veronique Evrard), Published June 13, 2012, http://www.rnw.nl/africa/article/how-could-they-not-see-suffering

Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula has serious questions about the first ‘Negro ballet’ and its legacy.

Interview audio featured in Africa in Progress, http://www.rnw.nl/africa/article/how-could-they-not-see-suffering

Faustin Linyekula continued

Why does Europe continue to ignore the real face of Africa? And why does Africa continue to see itself through the European colonial prism? Congolese danser and choreographer Faustin Linyekula has serious questions about the first ‘Negro ballet’and its legacy. RNW spoke to Linyekula before the June 13 premiere of the ballet in Amsterdam.

“I teach aspiring artists regularly on the continent and one important thing I share with them, beyond the technical knowhow, is how we think about what we’re doing. Because the tragedy of it all is that we continue to see ourselves through the eyes of Europe. … I’m here and what is it that I can do from wherever I am, whether an artist or a doctor.”


“Africa: How Could They Not See the Suffering?” (Hélène Michaud, photo: Veronique Evrard), Published June 13, 2012, http://www.rnw.nl/africa/article/how-could-they-not-see-suffering

Also: http://www.kabako.org/

La création du monde set (1923) by Fernand Léger© Dansmuseet - Musée Rolf de Maré Stockholm, © Dansmuseet - Musée Rolf de Maré Stockholm - https://www.hollandfestival.nl

Copyrighted Veronique Evrard images

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