Germaine Acogny, the mother of African Contemporary Dance performs in her solo “Somewhere at the beginning”

Navigating the knots of history and identity

By Samantha Daly (Guest Writer)

Considered the mother of contemporary African dance, Senegal’s Germaine Acogny is no stranger to international dance spaces and is a welcome returning guest to the JOMBA! Stage. This year she presents a poignant piece entitled Somewhere at the beginning, in which she grapples with her history and identity.

Acogny enters slowly. Moody lighting and a silent stage create an expectant tone as the audience is suspended in a shared moment of anticipation as they wait for the performance to begin. A projection of a man, looking proud and important, overlooks the scene. On the floor is a book which she considers for a moment before addressing the audience. What sets Acogny apart from her contemporaries is not only her grace and elegance as a performer, but her exceptional storytelling ability. In Somewhere at the beginning, the story begins as Acogny speaks: “When my father finished writing his autobiography, he said: if I had a wish it would be that people — all people — regardless of their origins and their religious beliefs should realise that they are all interdependent and must interact”.

What follows is a deeply personal and raw look at the interactions and stories which have guided Acogny’s life experiences, delving into such things as what it means to be a woman. Memory is dealt with both tenderly and forcefully as a means of interrogating the age-old question: Who am I?

The performance is a beautifully layered, multi-media piece which weaves together recorded narration and images with live narration and performance (a nod to the way in which the past informs the present), as well as a thoughtful use of a curtain between which Acogny passes as she delves into the past and present making for a visually stunning performance which will not be soon forgotten! One can’t help but consider the multi-layered performance as being symbolic of the multi-layered identities which we carry throughout our lives and, as we travel with Acogny between the layers of her own history and identity, we are indirectly asked to consider our own layers and the stories, experiences and memories which inform our own histories and identities.

This is a deeply moving performance and it is humbling to bear witness to Acogny’s personal journey from somewhere at the beginning, to now… Somewhere at the beginning will be screened on Saturday 5 September at 7pm and rescreened on Sunday 6 September at 12pm.

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