The Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music wraps up this week with The Good Dance — dakar/brooklyn. It's choreographed by Brooklyn-based Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba of Senegal. The work is the fruit of a collaboration between the two men that’s been seven years in the making.
The piece’s title is a reference to “good books” like the Bible and the Quran.
“Typically, in the West, you have “good books,” Wilson said. “That’s the written text that people look to for moral guidance about how they should interact with other human beings. In a lot of earth-based traditions, especially in the African Diaspora, traditionally and historically, the body is the text. The body is used to convey information about your identity, and about who you are in relationship to other people. As contemporary artists, we’re using that a starting point. Or, as a metaphor to look at how the body can be a place for knowledge, understanding, sharing, and conveying.”
Wilson and Ouamba met in Dakar, Senegal in 2002. Wilson was in Senegal on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Ouamba was running his own dance company there, Compagnie 1er Temps. Before long, the two found common ground, and their years-long collaboration began.
Wilson’s roots are in the Mississippi delta region, and Ouamba traces his family origins to the Congo River basin. This commonality serves as a departure point for The Good Dance: The two regions have a prolific and far-reaching influence on cultural production around the world – from Delta blues and jazz, to soukous and rumba from central Africa.
“Somehow those are places that continue to produce really important culture that had an enormous influence from the Mississippi delta in the United States and the Congo region in Africa,” said Wilson. The Good Dance — dakar/brooklyn is an investigation of that phenomenon. "What is it that allows those places and those people to continue to create something that has power and impact and influence globally?”
Ouamba is clear that he does not want to be thought of as the artistic ambassador for an entire continent.
“Some people think Reggie is collaborating with Africa!” Ouamba says. “But no, this is not Africa. This is a project between Andreya from Congo, living in Senegal and Reggie from Brooklyn, coming from Wisconsin. I’m not bringing all of Africa with me!”
Wilson agrees, and adds, “What I want the audience to come away with is the experience of our bodies as individual bodies, who have figured out how to coexist in the space together.”