My name is Opiyo Okach and I am the artistic director of the Performance Lab.
OPIYO: The performance lab is a collaborative process for contemporary creation meaning that we try to bring different artistes together in order to ask ourselves questions around creating work. It is for emerging artistes but also for experienced artists – it is a space where emerging artistes and experienced can meet and create new work and share that work with an audience.
For this lab, there are participants form different countries different African countries. This lab is part of a bigger project called Chrysalides and Chrysalides we selected participants from different African countries and in this case different is from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Togo, Chad, Burkina Faso, Senegal. There is a long list of countries from which the participants come. And they were selected in 2010 when we began to do the project we did a call for participants from different countries. And 20 participants were selected to follow the process. The first phase of the project was in Senegal in 2010 from which we had the 10 participants the second time that those participants were meeting the 20 are meeting this time in Nairobi for Phase 2 of project. Phase one of the project was really dance training for the dancers. Phase two has been about the creative process, choreography process. So that for phase two we asked if of those participants to come with an idea or a project that they were already working on and that they wanted to develop- we asked them to come with those and the idea was that once they got here they would then work with intervenants who would help them thorough their project. But at the same time, there is a certain number of contemporary dance companies in Africa whom sort of we have contact with. So we also asked those dance companies to propose participants, dancers whim they thought would be interested and ready to follow this kind of process.
OPIYO: Place of the spectator sort of the role of the audience in the work, the role of the artiste in the society and it's the relationship between the audience and the work, between society and the theatre and art in general. For that theme then I needed to work with somebody who is questioning ideas of relationship between performance and audience, between theatre and society and theatre and everyday life. So I invited the scenographer Jean Christophe with whom we've worked with for a number of projects in the past and with whom we've been developing work and questions around space. What is theatre? What is performance space, is it just a theatre is it something which is under a tree? Is a church a kind of performance? Is a political rally some kind of performance and really thinking very wide about what is performance? What is presentation and representation, in what context do those take place and how can we relate those to theatre.
I invited Jean Christophe as one, then also invited Sophiatu who is a choreographer who lives in France and comes from Benin and goes between Africa and Europe and her role was to help the participants with the dramaturgy of performance of creating work. There's also Yann Leguay he's a sound artiste. He's a composer that works with sound not just music but sound in a much broader sense, because dance or theatre is not just about music. Music is one of the possible things that we can use as sound. There is also just sounds form everyday life sounds – there's different ways of working with sound. So he calls himself a sound strategist in the sense that you have an idea and you have to find ways to express it. And I was also one of the intervenants and I was intervening in the sense of choreography – how to put together work – so those were the four intervenants that we had for the lab.
The participants brought in a number of projects. Not all of them came with projects because sometimes they didn't have an idea. So out of the 20 participants there was an initial 17 projects that they proposed; out of 17, 15 went through the draft process. The way we have been working is that there are different stages. There is a first part, which is draft process where all he projects and ideas are taken through drafting so that the participants can present to the rest of the participants. At the end of the draft process, 15 projects emerged. At the end of the draft process we dropped two projects as they didn't seem to have potential in the short time that we were working but also because we have limits with 20 participants and with each project having a certain number of people – and each project should have between 3-5 persons and there is a limit to how much we could divide up the 20 participants in any given day. So we dropped two of them and took the 15 projects through the developmental process. From that development process, we ended up with 7 projects that we developed till the end of the laboratory. So at the end of the laboratory, we have 7 projects that have emerged from the process and these seven projects will also be part of the next phase of the project in Ouagadougou.
I think it has been interesting. When the participants arrived inspite of having their CVs, we didn't know them personally. This kind of process is different for Africa and even the world. Usually we have training for dancers – but not training that unable people to become choreographers. So the process here is one of a kind, there are not many experiences. The participants did not come with much experience choreographing work. Creating work demands a lot of other tools. One has got to be thinking about the sound, the space, the scenography the space how is it going to look like. One has to know how to work with dancers because you are not born being able to lead a process. One has to know how to budget for the work, how to produce the work. There are so many things that the creator, the choreographer who is creating work has to be conscious of and has to be aware of. But for the Nairobi phase, it was more of the artistic aspect rather than the production things. Many of the participants were coming in with dance experience and dance baggage and often times the immediate solution to their ideas was to dance it out and sometimes an idea demands to be treated differently. I mean not every idea can be danced. A poem may be the best way or a painting. An idea sometimes demands that one is open to all those ways of doing. And so we had to bring the participants down to base and ask 'What is it you want to say? What is the strategy and being very open as to what the strategy could be. And that was a very difficult one for the participants who were initially not thinking that way. And I think that through the process then little by little we have begun to open peoples' ideas and imagination of ways they could deal with ideas and issues and how to build work, how to construct work. What kind of questions to ask yourself. So I think that the participants have gone through a difficult process because many of the assumptions that they had when they were coming got debunked and thrown out of the window and they really had to start afresh and think of how to do something from nothing, from scratch. At the same time I think it has been quiet enriching for them. Working with the different intervenants, each of them revealing a world that they may not have been aware of. And at the end these 7 projects have emerged. From my perspective I think they are interesting projects that they are going to work on and develop in Ouagadougou. So I think that the project has been enriching both for the participants and the intervenants because when you are working with somebody's idea you also learn a lot about your own process – you begin to question your own process.