In it, Ms. Acogny recites from âDiscourse on Colonialism,â a caustic 1955 essay by the Martinican activist and intellectual AimÃ© CÃ©saire. Itâs a passage about how colonizers (like the French in Senegal), in thinking of the colonized as beasts, become beasts themselves.
But, to choose among issues, doesnât a French male choreographer imposing his vision on an African female performer risk replicating the colonial relationships that the CÃ©saire text condemns?
Presented with that question in a recent phone interview, Ms. Acogny, speaking from Senegal, laughed but calmly rejected the premise. âItâs not colonization,â she said. âItâs my choice.â
Choosing How to Move
Being inside the âpagan storyâ of âRite,â she explained, was a way of honoring her ancestors, particularly her fatherâs mother, a Yoruba priestess she never met. When a dove appeared at Ms. Acognyâs birth, her family saw it as a sign of this grandmotherâs return.
Many of Ms. Acognyâs shows have addressed that African heritage. But it was in Paris, where she was studying to be a physical education teacher, that she discovered dance as a discipline. The year was 1962, and after three years of training in harmonic gymnastics (a now defunct French method), ballet and modern dance, she returned to her newly independent homeland and looked at African dance and its surrounding culture with new eyes, learning as much as she could.
Not everything appealed to her. When her husband took a second wife, she demanded a divorce. To support herself and her two children, she began teaching dance in her backyard. Soon, she created her first solo. âIt was a way…