In summer 2014, Désire Davids, a choreographer and dancer from South Africa; Dorine Mokha, a writer and choreographer from the Democratic Republic of Congo; and French composer and pianist Nicolas Mondon met at Solitude and started a collaboration with dance and prepared piano as TRIO Sans Titre. After presentations at Osthang Project Darmstadt and Solitude, they met again in February 2015, this time in Kinsangani/DR Congo, invited by Studios Kabako. – Performing the piece there confronted them with new questions concerning their work. Is it possible to create non political art in this space? But what then would political art be?
CH: How come you went to Kisangani, DR Congo?
Désire Davids: Our time in Solitude was just the beginning. Even though we did public presentations, we knew it was still a work in progress. Studios Kabako (Faustin Linyekula and Virginie Dupray) attended our last presentation at Solitude and after further discussions with us, they offered us a residency in Kisangani (DR Congo) to continue developing the work. This was a great opportunity for the TRIO to develop the work further in a completely different space. Stuttgart was neutral; none of us had any links here except for this common moment together. In Kisangani, we were invited into »Dorine’s space,« where he has worked for the past six years. How would this influence our process to create a new common moment and space?
CH: Dorine, can you tell us something about Studios Kabako, their philosophy and your work there?
Dorine Mokha: Studios Kabako is a place dedicated to dance and visual theater, founded in 2001 in Kinshasa by choreographer and director Faustin Linyekula. Since 2006 Studios Kabako has settled in Kisangani, where I have lived and worked since 2009. I think the philosophy of Studios Kabako finds its essence in the importance they give to »human infrastures« (people), for whom they provide a space in which to tell stories and/or just talk to their community and to themselves.
I’m an associate artist there, and for me to participate in some of their projects or do my own projects accompanied by them is my contribution to the struggle, that of survival, survival of a dream (my dream), thought, ideas, and imagination involved in a country where everything is fragile. Of course as there is no common recipe I do it my way, not necessarily related to Studios Kabako’s philosophy. I do my little revolution in dialogue with others.
CH: What made you want to become an artist?
DM: From my teens, I had to face torment and discrimination, and since I needed to find a reason to exist, to feel alive, and also to be a weapon for a certain revolution of thought, I needed to be heard. I still need that. That’s why I refused a career as a lawyer and wanted to be an artist, responsible for my own life and sensitive to those of others.
CH: What were the circumstances when you worked and performed together in Kisangani?
DD: In Kisangani, we worked outside, amidst the sounds, smells, and scenery of daily life. The experience was challenging but beautiful. I will definitely go back. I walked from my accommodation to the studio and was immediately struck by the heat, the poverty, the daily struggle to survive. At the same time, the beauty, determination, and generosity of the people. Initially, I found it hard to create and contribute to the process. I questioned my original choices of direction for the work (no specific political, social context). I felt like a spoiled child. How can I be here, in this place, this environment, being accommodated, fed, and paid to create »a moment« while there is so much hardship around me? I am again confronted with the question posed to me so many times »can African artists produce non political/asocial work?« I feel torn… In Stuttgart, I could let go and just BE because we were working and creating in a »castle«, an environment where everyone »had«. This was Kisangani…two worlds completely apart. Then through discussions and internal deliberation, I came to realize and accept that we all need moments of beauty in our lives, moments where we just »are,« moments in time, in space, in place… and maybe even more so in places where there is a continuous daily struggle to survive. In its simplicity and by just »being« in a present moment, a common space, TRIO Sans Titre is political.
CH: Nicolas, what was it like to perform your music there?
NM: It’s a little bit strange for me to answer that because I usually never perform my music myself. The first two times we performed it in Germany, it was very different, mostly because it was in the places where we met, invented, and began the project. In DR Congo, the difference was that we were meeting for working on and performing the piece. From a working point of view, it was the the main difference. But of course it was also my first time in Africa, so it was a wonderful experience of meeting people, a culture, a way of life; but I would separate it from the work. The reactions to the music were of curiosity and sympathy.
CH: What was the reaction of the audience in general – compared to when you performed in Germany?
DD: Apart from the fact that we performed outside and the music was heard and listened to amongst the soundscape of motorcycles, birds, people talking, children playing, the reaction of the audience was the same: quiet, present in the moment, transported to another world by this »new music« and movement. It was the first time for them to be exposed to this kind of music, and the marriage of it with contemporary dance was fascinating to them. They were intrigued and hungry to know how we created movement to these notes, how Nicolas decided what to play, what the creative process was like. They were very happy to have been exposed to something new, something different…
CH: You are back at Solitude now – will you continue with your collaboration then or work on new/other projects?
DD: We will be working on our own projects for the majority of the time. However, we decided to continue our collaboration and to meet again in Solitude to flesh out another idea.
CH: What has stayed with you after this experience?
Nicolas: Warmth. Not because of the weather, but because of the way people were around us, for work, and life. Also because we were working outside, in a space open to people, daily life, and the African urban-nature around us (birds, earth…).