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Sack – Michel Kouakou

September 1, 2009

The dance begins with a large brown sack labeled ‘COFFEE’ hanging from above and a woman, her face covered with her shirt pulled over her head, stands on the right side under a white square of light, mere feet from the audience. You can see her abdomen muscles as her lungs fill and empty. She is black, and she does not move for the entire dance. Michel Kouakou enters and dances with such speed and precision that it is difficult to see his appendages as anything more than a series of flashes. Slowly, more and more bodies enter the stage stopping to face both front and back, all under their own small squares of white light, and faceless. At one point Michel comes to the hanging sack. He pushes it, and as it swings he dances to beat it away still rooted under the bag of coffee, in the spot where the sack must come back to find equilibrium. At the end Bebe Miller stands up from the back of the audience and speaks. She leaves me with the quote ‘Keep your eyes open, but don’t look at anything.’

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

Credit: Arthur Fink Photography

Everyone used in this piece is black. And besides Michel, everyone was born American. Earlier at Bates Dance Festival, Michel performed a bit of this piece along with some improvisation. At one point in the dance he handed a white girl a book. Later, when discussing the dance with the audience, he mentioned an offensive joke often told as: if you ever want to hide something from an African put it in a book, referring to the supposed uneducated status of Africans. This gesture of himself, from Côte d’Ivoire, giving a white American a book was profound. Unlike the political correctness that has taken over American culture, Michel did not separate his identity as an African or the girls identity as both white and American from his work. So it is no wonder that he did not use any white people in his dance and with that wall broken the depth at which you look at his dance is limitless.

Did he intend to use black Americans purposefully? Perhaps he was pointing to racism within America and how, although they are not African and are fully American, they are still faceless, voiceless, and just bodies. The spoken text would assert otherwise, pointing instead to a more general sense of open mindedness, saying that the people on stage were not faceless but rather blinded, and choosing their own fate by not opening their eyes. Michel likes to experiment and his piece most likely contains a lot of fragments of ideas that both combine with and bounce off of each other, so both of these interpretations may very well be present.

What did you come away with after watching this piece?

What other works have you seen that are self-referential in regards to a certain ethnicity or background?

Where is the line between stereotyping and being obtusely colorblind?

Did you ever pull your shirt over your head and walk around as a kid?

Different Voices, August 7th, 2009
Schaeffer Theatre, Bates Dance Festival
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 1, 2009 4:05 pm

    interesting read

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