White Bird Dance, Portland State University, Portland, OR
December 9, 2006
Reviewed by Heather Wisner
Compagnie TchéTché in Dimi
Photos by Wolfgang Weimer, courtesy White Bird
Although it’s been dubbed a universal language, art doesn’t automatically translate from one place to the next. Even dance, which requires no subtitles or interpreters, can point to our cultural differences as often as to our similarities.
Take Compagnie TchéTché, a four-woman troupe from Côte d’Ivoire, which closed a nine-city U.S. tour in Portland with its signature work, Dimi. According to a program note by founder Béatrice Kombé, the piece addresses the need for women’s strength and solidarity in hard times. Kombé’s dance vocabulary encompasses classic modernism and African idioms, and within that, Ivorian idioms, which vary based on occasion (a rice harvest, say) and village of origin. It’s a highly individual mix, with less of the movement that local viewers have come to expect of African dance—which, one realizes in retrospect, is an absurdly broad term.
Dimi is set to African flute and keyboard, played live by Ali Wague and Bornou Aboubakar Bassa, respectively. (Bassa co-wrote the score with Baba Galle Kante.) Amplification produces a crackling, reedy sound and picks up the humming tones in Wague’s voice and the rustle of his long robe. It’s not a sonic combination one hears much around here. Kombé’s insistence on strength is literal as well as metaphorical, demanding frequent level changes between upright and on-the-floor dancing, including a stunning jump in which the dancers seem to kick their own lower halves out from under themselves.
As Dimi progresses, viewers begin to find more universalities, like two dancers who engage in kidlike horseplay—tackling and rolling over one another, playing a game that looks like marbles. There’s also periodic animal-like imagery, in a crab walk or arms arched like birds in flight. Most memorable is a solo in which Nina Kipre faces the audience with downcast eyes, sheds her suit jacket, crumples it nervously, and rolls to the floor face down, her fingers thrumming anxiously on the ground, as if deciding whether getting up and facing us again is worth the discomfort. The piece closes with the women literally supporting one another—with lifts and hugs and tender gestures—even as their faces contort with grief. These moments resonate, even when the music, the dance, and the politics underlying it (including a recent civil war in Kombé’s country) are less familiar. TchéTché is not an easy group to categorize, nor is it easy to forget. See http://tchetche.afrikart.net/compagnie.htm.