Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Dance group to perform at Malian festival

This December, Brown's Mande dance company New Works will perform in the biennial arts festival in Mali.

"It's a great, great honor," said Michelle Bach-Coulibaly, senior lecturer in theatre, speech and dance and creator of New Works. Bach-Coulibaly directs the group and has organized several trips to Mali for students with her husband, Seydou Coulibaly. Fifteen current students and three Brown graduates will appear in the biennial, perhaps the first American ensemble to take part in the 50-year-old festival.

"We are representing Brown and the United States," she said. She described the festival as the "Olympics on a much smaller scale" where entertainers and intellectuals from all over Mali come to compete.

Bach-Coulibaly has been taking Brown students to Mali to study West African dance since 1991, but a trip this summer was the first undertaken to produce work specifically for New Works. Ten Brown students, some of them New Works members, and 13 others spent three weeks there in August developing "Bloodline" ­- a dance-and-theater production aimed at educating Malians about the dangers of malaria, which is one of the country's most prominent health concerns. The production included a performance work designed to demonstrate the proper use of mosquito nets.

"Our time was much more purposeful and driven by producing work and results. It was not just a time to absorb their culture," Bach-Coulibaly said, explaining that the group worked with at least 15 artists every day on text, dance and music that would show "how we can use the arts to educate and provoke deliberation and involvement at a grassroots level."

Students spent many of their days out in the field researching Malian culture with a specific emphasis on malaria prevention and education.

"I spent a lot of time talking and discussing with a myriad of different communities about their experiences, knowledge and what techniques (for malaria prevention) that are or aren't working and why," said Daniel Sobol '09, who is entering his second semester as a New Works member and plans to return to Mali for the festival in December.

The group worked with several social advocacy groups and local health practitioners, including Madame Togo's Orphanage, Save the Children and CAFO Women's Association, as well as with Mali's Ministry of Culture and Yeredon - a performing arts school that housed the group during their stay.

Sobol found the pervasiveness of dance in Malian culture particularly surprising, he said. "In Mali, performance, music and dance are major ways of expression used in education and everyday life," Sobol said.

"One day we had a dance party in the street with hundreds of people from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Walking through neighborhoods, we would see people singing and dancing," he said. And "when we arrived, they welcomed us with singing and dancing," he added.

Bach-Coulibaly explained that New Works strives to show how the arts, which are so valued in Mali, "are agents for social activism and change," and that their deep roots in Malian culture make them powerful communicative tools.

"They are really honored by our attention to their culture," Bach-Coulibaly said. "Top Malian comedians and top Malian singing stars want to be a part of what we are doing."

"Madonna wouldn't be sitting on our couch, but the top recording artist in Mali is," she said.

In the months leading up to the biennial festival in December, New Works will attempt to raise an estimated $50,000 through on-campus events and letter-writing campaigns.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.