The founder of the Ecole des sables in Senegal, the Franco-Senegalese dancer, Germaine Acogny, received the most prestigious award of the Italian biennial on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. This distinction is reserved for the most influential dancers, as before her, Carolyn Carlson, Pina Bausch or Maguy Marin. Known as the “mother of contemporary dance’, she is renowned for her spectacular choreography and her passion even at the age of 76. Ze-africanews immerses you in the life of this exceptional dancer with a shaved head that has marked the last decades.
From birth to passion for dance
Daughter of Togoun Servais Acogny, colonial official and author of the Tales of Aloopho, Germaine Acogny paid a deserved tribute to his father in his show “At a place at the beginning.” Born in Benin, Germaine Acogny moved to Senegal at the age of 4 with her father. Granddaughter of a voodoo priestess, she draws her signing heritage from her grandmother. From a young age, she animates the playground of her school with her dances. While she mimes the trees, the children call her crazy but they keep coming back for her so she can dance with them. She studied in France to become a gymnastics teacher, which justifies her rather masculine corpulence.
His sparkling journey full of twists and turns
She created a dance studio in Dakar in 1968. With his undisputed talent, Germaine Acogny directs Mudra Afrique, created by Maurice Béjart and President Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar between 1977 and 1982. In 1980, she published her book La Danse africaine, published in three languages. After the closure of Mudra Afrique, she gave classes in L’Isle-Jourdain, 35 km from Toulouse, then moved to Brussels with Maurice Béjart’s company and organized international African dance courses that were a great success with the European public. In 1985, she founded with her husband Helmut Vogt the “studio-school ballet-theatre of the 3rd world” in Toulouse.
It was in 1995 that Germaine Acogny decided to return to Senegal and, in 1998, she created the association Jant-Bi/ l’École des Sables. From 1997 to 2000, she was appointed artistic director of the Dance of Africa in Creation section in Paris and of the Rencontres chorégraphiques de danse africaine contemporaine.
In 2004, she inaugurated in Senegal an international center of traditional and contemporary dances of Africa called “School of sands”, in Toubab Dialo. A centre that will no longer be able to continue its activities since in 2010, one of its supporters, the Dutch foundation Doen, was no longer able to maintain its support.
At the age of 76, Germaine has not finished dancing. At home, «the old dance always and until the end». She draws her inspiration from her walks in the sea that borders the Ecole des Sables. Today, she is working on her new piece, a duo with Malou Airaudo, emblematic figure of the company of Pina Bausch, which will be created in 2020 at the Ecole des Sables.
Germaine Acogny is a Knight of the Order of Merit and an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic and a Knight of the National Order of the Lion of Senegal. In 2014, she was ranked among the «50 most influential African personalities in the world» according to the magazine Jeune Afrique. In 2019, she played a role in the film Yao with Omar Sy as lead actor.
On Tuesday, February 16, 2021, she was awarded the Golden Lion of Dance by the Venice Biennale.