Choreographic performance and politics in 20th century Urban Senegal

A podcast of a lecture by visiting anthropology professor Hélène Neveu Kringelbach from Oxford University.

A podcast of a lecture by visiting anthropology professor Hélène Neveu Kringelbach from Oxford University.

Drawing on recently published monograph (Dance Circles: Movement, Morality and Self-Fashioning in Urban Senegal), this presentation traces the development of the performing arts in Dakar, Senegal, from the 1930s to the contemporary period. The transformation of expressive cultural forms like dance, music and theatre is shown to be shaped by individual innovation within regional genres and by colonial school theatre in Francophone West Africa, transnational connections between Africa and the US, post-colonial cultural policies, migration, and the strategic funding of ‘culture and the arts’ by French agencies.

In the 1930s, colonial French authorities introduced musical theatre to the William Ponty School in Senegal. The genre that emerged as a result became an important focus for the mobilization of African, French-educated literati, and carried the seeds of political activism from its inception. Over time, they were replaced by new generations of performers with more diverse levels of schooling. They replaced written plays with choreography and music, and the genre of ‘neo-traditional performance’ that emerged became a vehicle for regional and national politics as well as individual careers abroad.

In the 1970s, regional political rivalries encouraged President Senghor to promote modernist approaches to choreographic production. The establishment of the Mudra Afrique School in Dakar was thus a defining moment in the introduction of individualized choreographic techniques to Francophone African performing worlds. The experimental effervescence of the post-independence period was to be short-lived, however, and the economic decline of the 1980s meant that the Senegalese state’s control of the arts could not be sustained. The withdrawal of state funding forced performing artists to develop new strategies of extraversion, on the same model as the state itself. Most significantly, the period created the conditions for French and other European funding agencies to regain a degree of control over artistic production in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa. In the process, new modes of choreographic production have emerged, which provide a window into changing ideas of self and success in the region.

Hélène Neveu Kringelbach is a social anthropologist, a researcher with the Leverhulme-funded Oxford Diaspora Programme and a research associate at the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She is currently a visiting professor at UCLA. She received her D.Phil. in Anthropology from the University of Oxford in 2005, and was a lecturer in African Studies and Anthropology from 2006 to 2011. She has recently published a monograph on dance in urban Senegal (Berghahn, 2013), which follows a co-edited volume on the anthropology of dance (Berghahn, 2012). While pursuing her interest in dance and music in Francophone West Africa, she is currently developing a new strand of research on ‘mixed marriage’ between Senegal and Europe.

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Duration: 52:10


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