The most significant change that I experienced regarding the activities organized by École des Sables, was the fact of being chosen by the great Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as her mentee in the programme ‘The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts initiative’. We were many students coming from École des Sables, nominated by Maman Germaine, and a lot more were coming from other parts of the world. I was chosen thanks to attending École des Sables and the work I was able to develop there.
École des Sables gave me the strength to believe in what I do as an African artist, the power of conviction on a development, an innovation, the conviction of what I can bring to the world with the dances I inherited from my forefathers, and what the world will be able to give me thanks to that. The rooting [in traditions] and the openness to the world. Above all, [it gave me] a very personal sense of determination, which I hadn’t before.
This change was significant indeed because of the fact that I questioned myself who I was, which I hadn’t done really before attending École des Sables. I did not ask myself why I danced so well, I just danced, without being worried about what I could use the dance for and what the dance could use me and my people for in terms of awareness, discipline, freedom and socio-cultural development. Today I feel like a heavy responsibility, through the world. (Maybe too much, but I feel deeply and truly about this).
The fact of being chosen by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as her mentee was surely significant at the international level, but also because it was a personal event, an opportunity to learn and compare, which enabled me to have a clear vision of my thoughts, my doubts, and my concerns. It worked, because that event enabled me to have my own language, a clear global vision, a very precise goal starting from the dances of my forefathers.
I noticed some basic needs between the West and Africa regarding socio-cultural development:
I noticed the coldness in the faces, in the lifestyle, in the tram and the subways. The ‘hello’ in the morning, which is mumbled, just because it is that time of the day, though is not pronounced with real energy to start the day. In the offices, the lack of life and [the lack of] human warmth, it was all over the place! A voice in my head asked the question, ‘how can you dance in such an atmosphere??????’ I ended up by subconsciously feeling developing a skin-illness where I used to live, although I was proud of my career, professionally speaking.
Now, the observation, the study, the deep analysis, the respect, of the dance of our forefathers which takes place at the École des sables, where the dance is performed in its pure form or in a form that emanates from that type of information... To perform these dances contributes to heal all sorts of evil and pain; that could be quoted high. In general dance is healing. The proof is that after several hours of repetitions, on my own in the studio for the dance piece ‘Music for Pieces of Woods’ a music piece by Steeve Reich, whose musical rhythms are those of the Éwé from the West Africa, the ethnic group to which I belong to in Togo, after enjoying all those moments in the studio, I always found myself at the end of the rehearsal with a huge smile, I was happy with my dance, which was opposite to the [values of the] system and lifestyle of the society where I was. I think that people did not understand me, but well …! I did not understand myself there either…
Another trigger was that after delivering some courses on African dance in Brussels, under my own initiative, following the research done on our dances and the convictions born at École des Sables, I collected some feedback from the European participants. They referred to the positive impact that those dances and rhythms provided and continue to provide (for I am still teaching in the same manner) to their every-day lives. Nowadays that impact is huge and relevant and it contributes to a healthier society in Europe. Here is were I am able to bring my contribution in …
I simply confirmed that the activities, studies carried out at the École des Sables were huge on our dances, they have created dancers able to represent, preserve the strength coming from the depths of what is sacred, from spirituality, from the reflections on this pure and ancient civilization. A civilization that attempts more or less to get modernized, which is not completely wrong, but the way it is being done, I find it damaging. The way this process is imposed and has to be accepted 100%, in my modest view, will take us to perdition. I met a lot of Africans in Europe, in Belgium, who have become more European than the Europeans themselves because they are adopting the habits of the European culture, taken to be ‘the best’ to become ‘civilized’ and as consequence they undermine our culture, considered ‘primitive’.
I think that to integrate yourself does not necessarily mean that you need to be transformed. These people [Africans he met in Europe] they do no longer believe in what we have back home. We know the reason why, but that does not mean that you are going to deny who you are, drop the values and the respect for the elders, in exchange for the modern world –and I certainly do not know where this modernity is leading us.
On the other hand, [we need] to preserve and be aware of the traditions, the morals, the wisdom, and the knowledge of the elders, to improve the conditions of life. In this, I believe firmly. With this belief, we can do a lot of things in Africa when working with dance towards the cultural-social development.
I can understand very well that an African, as black as me, refuses that I call her my sister, as it happened to me in Brussels, because we did not know each other, she was born in Belgium… But then, what has become of the socio-cultural education of the place where her parents come from? The history of the colour of her black skin, coming probably from Congo Kinshasa, or Brazzaville (I am not sure but judging by the very strong accent of her French, she was surely from that region, from Congo). In any case, that is where the whole thing got started. I told myself that I needed to do something.
I have to recover the following phrase that come to my mind all the time, both from the mouth and the mind of ‘MamPa Germuth [Maman Germaine and Papa Helmut) who used to say ‘be proud of yourselves, be open to the world, and the world will be open to you, but when you embrace the world never forget where you come from’. To that, Sanouvi adds ‘Not only we need to know where we come from so that we do not get lost in the world, but also where we come from to bring a contribution, thanks to the knowledge, the science, the alchemy, the harmony, the balance, the sharing, the giving and receiving, that exists largely in the different forms of arts, religions, and the traditional heritage which we inherited from our forefathers’.
All that gave me the zeal to establish a house in Togo ‘The Tools of Wisdom’ where the dance will serve the socio-cultural education, the preservation, the research, the deepening, the valorization, the revalorization, etc…
For that reason I created and put in place a process of formation to reach the task that has to be done over there, so that we can develop the creation of dance events according to what we want, and in the way we want to say it. It will enable traditional dancers to not only express themselves artistically to the world, through whatever we possess, but also they will be able to make a living from their art. That is not easy, but the proof is that today I live from my dance, thanks to the wake-up call, the determination, and the work experienced at Ècole des Sables. I succeeded in taking care of the education of my younger brother, and of my nieces and nephews in Togo.
I know that establishing such a house will contribute a lot to the potential already existing in Africa, to benefit from that knowledge, respect it, to express it through the dance in order to contribute positively to the well-being of the community where this house will be.