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French-Malian artist Smail Kanouté brings his moving piece, Never Twenty One to Vancouver as part of our Global Dance Connections series January 19-21. Our Executive Director Mirna provides some insights into his unique work.
Who is Smail Kanouté?
Smail is a French-Malian graphic designer, dancer and silkscreen artist, a graduate of the ENSAD (National School of Decorative Arts) in Paris. He learned dance in the streets of France, Mali and Brazil, and now lives and works in Paris. He belongs to a young generation of artists who are reconsidering established visual codes and aesthetics across a number of disciplines and arts/cultural practices, and brings them together in unexpected ways. In 2022 Europe’s largest dance presenter network Aerowaves named Smail as one of 20 dance artists to look out for!
How would you describe his work?
Smail’s work is cross-disciplinary, very visceral, deeply human, hybrid and eclectic. Perhaps influenced by his study and practice of textile art, he connects disciplines and techniques in unexpected ways. He draws on his Malian heritage, but also seeks threads to connect seemingly distinct cultures.
I first saw him perform within the Aerowaves platform – I was deeply moved by his work and found his approach unique, real, poetic, and distinctive. This experience led me to his films. And, here we are…
What kind of show is Never Twenty One?
Never Twenty One is the first work in a triptych. It shares a vision of humanity, inspired by the heartbreaking reality of the violence that has resulted in so many senseless deaths of young Black men in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg – men who will never reach the age of 21. This piece reflects on the impact of colonialism and racism, and also examines the persistence of ancestral rites as a way of affirming identity. The other parts of the triptych are inspired by the life of the Black samurai Yasuke Kurosan, and by voodoo dances. Each of the three projects are also being developed into short films.
In Never Twenty One we see three powerful dancers, performing very physical, intense movements rooted in street styles (krumping, popping), contemporary dance idioms, and the baile funk and pasinho of South America. It’s a poetic, deeply human and very energetic reflection, steeped in a shamanistic heritage.
To underscore the message of the movement patterns Smail uses the body as a type screen print: the dancers’ torsos are inscribed with testimonials from victims’ families. Choreography to him is like painting – utilizing curves, lines, colours, rhythms, emotions.
What made you decide to bring this show to Vancouver?
Smail is a new voice on the rise. I feel the work resonates deeply and helps expand our own understanding of who we are, and to reflect on the stories that are passed down to us, as well as the experiences of Black communities.
Our longstanding partnership with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival allows us to present new names and expand the “territories” of the dance geography we endeavour to present, the different languages and cultures we may not regularly be exposed to. The Dance Centre strives to provide a window for diverse voices and to nurture discourse, where dance is seen as a political force, as much as a motivational, inspiring and fulfilling experience.
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections Series
Smail Kanouté/ Compagnie Vivons!- Never Twenty One
January 19-21, 2023 | 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Presented with PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
Photos: Mark Maborough