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Contemporary dance piece ‘Multiple-s’ crosses language and other barriers

Dancing for all in Salia Sanou's 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival 2019
Dancing for all in Salia Sanou's 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage

In a search for answers about his own life and trajectory, Burkina Faso dancer and choreographer Salia Sanou invites an older colleague, a writer and a musician to join him on stage in 'Multiple-s'.

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In three consecutive pieces of around 25 minutes each, the dancer sets out to confront his own artistic and personal reality.

After asking himself some existential questions, Sanou said he realised one possible way to find answers was to enter into dialogue with others on stage.

Dynamic duos

Against the background of a white stage with the old walls in the Cours Minéral of Avignon University highlighting their forms, Sanou begins his quest in the company of a grand dame of African dance, the Béninoise Germaine Acogny, founder of the Ecole des Sables school in Senegal.

Salia Sanou and Germaine Acogny on the move in Multiple-s at the Cour Minérale, Avignon Festival, July 2019
Salia Sanou and Germaine Acogny on the move in Multiple-s at the Cour Minérale, Avignon Festival, July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Acogny’s grace and confidence, and Sanou’s respectful gaze speak volumes. The first surprise in this dance piece is when we hear the two using their voices, and Sanou crosses one barrier between dance and drama.

From the start, he shows how performance can mean something other than high-impact. Acogny and Sanou use canes as props. Are they necessary? Who cares? They become part of the sequence, like Charlie Chaplin’s famous walking stick.

Age-free environment

Most of all, Sanou disproves a popular perception that professional modern dance has to be performed by young and athletic dancers.

Franco-Canadian writer Nancy Huston wafts on stage like the leaves of paper she lets fall, and which bear her writings.

Known for her literary skills, and her perfect bilingualism, English and French, in this unlikely situation, Huston reveals, along with curiosity and pluckiness, her former interest in dance.

She and Sanou were drawn together after he used her writing, a tribute to playwright Samuel Beckett, when Sanou held workshops in Burkina Faso for refugees from Mali.

Writer Nancy Huston talks about her experience and journey with Salia Sanou

Another surprise, another experience, stretching the artist, pushing them to experiment different artistic forms.

Nancy Huston seated, in contemplative mode with dancer, choreographer Salia Sanou in 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival
Nancy Huston seated, in contemplative mode with dancer, choreographer Salia Sanou in 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Avignon Festival

Dance music

There’s no let up in Sanou’s surprise package in the third piece with Babx, aka David Babin. He plays the piano and sings as he would in his everyday. However, then Sanou, the dancer, is singing along with him, in a bilingual echo. Then he and Babin perform a seated number where dance meets body percussion. Babin enters new territory.

Sanou’s piece is simple in appearance. A fixed revolving plate décor and two simple lit bars and frames, like huge towel racks, or gym bars or barred windows, as well as Babx' piano, define space for the performers.

Simple and evocative decor frame dancers' space in Salia Sanou's 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival, July 2019
Simple and evocative decor frame dancers' space in Salia Sanou's 'Multiple-s' in the Cour Minérale at the Avignon Festival, July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Avignon Festival

‘Multiple-s’ is simple also in structure, but with Sanou's dialogue and open approach, coaxing his partners to go beyond their own expected limits, he multiplies the layers of artistic and intellectual interpretation.

Moreover, his three partners each seem to thoroughly relish their challenges. They convey a sense of contentedness all-round in their already quite well-travelled piece.

Their next horizons in 2020 take them around France, with a crowning billing at the Théâtre de Chaillot in Paris in May and June.

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