Where is home for you?
Paris, France. I was born and raised in Paris, but my family both of my parents are from Marseille.
Most recently you were performing the UK?
Yes, as part of Let's Dance (International Frontiers) Serendipity Festival and it was about black dance. It was the 10th anniversary of this event. It's a platform for black dancers and speakers to come together for about two weeks to show their work, to talk about different political subjects and how they are engaging in their own way-through the arts.
What was your experience engaging as part of this festival?
Well, it was really extremely nice. You got to also see other performances to see how others engage in different ways. Even more interesting is was not only through dance. People have a lot of different ways of expressing their ideas through art to engage society and sometimes their bodies are ways used to translate their words.
This was really inspiring for me because I'm always looking for new ways to express myself. My own movement is also something I want to deepening-and seeing all of those expression gave me a lot of information. For example the author Brenda Dixon Gottschild of "The Black Dancing Body" spoke on being black, black art in general should claim their own environment and this was really nice.
So when you are performing-is it more than just following a choreographed routine? Can you talk about the different forms of expression and what that means for you?
So for me and this is why I decided to join this company, this is a company that tells stories through movement. Not only just moving, but also expressing deeper subjects through the movements. And this is why it is so important for me-dancing is not just a way to move my body to stay in shape or do beautiful movements. That is really not my goal, my goal is to tell stories.
Whenever I am in the process with a choreography, whether it is my own or someone else's-I always need to understand the story. When you see art in general-it is not just one story-there's one that everyone can make their own out of what they see or feel-and this is what really matters to me-to relate and create my own story so that people will understand and feel.
Is it for our interpretations your movements? How would we pick up on the story you wish to tell with dance?
Well, I guess I create differently. It's always coming from what I feel in the movement or the idea I want to develop from the music. And if there is no music-what is the silence making me feel. Every time I dance it's a different feeling-every minute is a different moment and every emotion depends on what I feel at the moment. It's also always interesting because even when working on an idea I had before-it's going to be from a different prospective. It's the same with choreography.
Whenever a choreographer gives me a movement, for example like when working with Ronald K. Brown, there was this one choreography where we were slaves trying to escape from plantations. And there was a big statement at the beginning where I was the one that got whipped-so my back was facing the audience and the other dancers were acting like they were hitting my back. This was a piece that was really deep and important to me and every time I have to perform-it triggers a lot of things, emotions, feelings. So there is a lot of personal work being still able do the dance and the movement-while wanting to sit and cry-because it makes me feel so much. This is a memory I like to share-because it reminds me of why I like to do what I do.
One time after this performance-there was a 4yr old who approached me with her mother who explained that her daughter was crying thinking that someone actually hurt me-which let me know the daughter understood the story and kids are a really great audience. The simplest things can be understood the way the are, or in a totally different way. How it is understood is personal.
Even for me-I've performed this choreography four times and three of those I cried. It's a preparation outside of the rehearsal space where we ask ourselves how each movement-what does it mean. And this is especially how the choreography works-every single movement has a meaning. Every single word is there for a reason and it creates these movements like a sentence, like a phrase to translate emotions.
When you started dancing at age 4, at that time did you know this would be your profession?
Really, I actually didn't want to be a dancer. At first I just wanted to be a teacher-because I really love to share and I didn't know then how as a dancer I could share as much as a teacher. It was only when I got to the age of 16 that I realized how as a dancer-I needed this to be able to teach others how to get there-without having experienced it myself. So I told myself to do a deeper personal work to be a better guide for others. And later in my career I want to be an art therapist to use my dance techniques to help people.
When you first started in your development did you feel there was a certain responsibility to being a dancer?
Absolutely not at the beginning, it's only becoming more so lately. When I was growing up I used to do music, dance, a lot of different activities. It was only when I got to a conservatory at 11 when I realized that my color mattered. How others viewed my body ability and how I was put into the works-where I would be put in comparison to the majority of the others in the space who were white. Growing up-I was usually one of the only black persons doing ballet and for me it didn't matter I was just dancing and it was not a factor that bothered me-you're white I'm black...ok, back to dance-that was all that mattered.
Only when I started wanting to audition for more professional schools that I started facing the reality of my identity. I was often told because of your body type-you should do contemporary-because your body type is not fitting the ballet expectations. I was like, ok, I'll do what I want to do until I can't do it any more. It was more important for me in ballet to understand in a technical way and also have more knowledge of my body.
At age 17 I auditioned for a lot of places, in Europe pre-professional schools where they would tell me my body is too much this, too much this or not too much that. Behind it, when I asked other students in the school they would say they already recruited a black, one black dancer-why don't you try next year. And I was so confused. Why should it be just one? And why is it even a quota? This really got me confused. Even one of my teachers at the Conservatory in Paris who was really honest-I would tell her places I wanted to audition and she would be like no, they're taking blond people there; they are not even going to look at you-so don't even bother going there. So that's when I started realizing. Because I was associated to black people who are famous in America-it was suggested that I go to the Alvin Ailey School-because there are more people like you. And I was like, what does it mean there are more people like me? Is it because they like love dance? Because for me that was the only association it means.
After high-school I was supposed to go to a contemporary school in the south of France, then did a summer intensive program with the Alvin Ailey School and really loved the movement, loved the energy, it was something I had never done.
My teachers then suggested that I keep in consideration my color, because people are doing it: also to acknowledge, your color is your strength, not your weakness, but be aware of it.
You mentioned resistance to your body type, was it you were not skinny enough?
I wasn't skinny enough. There's a certain shape of the foot that you have to have. I was too muscular. It was a lot of those factors that came into perspective. But for me that only thing that should have mattered is how much you've trained, how much you wanted it, how much you loved dance. For me it's more than just body type, it's how you can make somebody feel when you dance. Do they stay stuck on how your body looks or the story and emotions your sharing? Is it the emotion you are sharing what they will remember or is it your body type? After that is when I decided America would be better a opportunity for me.
Growing up did you have friends who wanted to pursue ballet, but not confident enough to pursue it?
I had a lot of them. Every time actually, that I had to go with what I wanted to do it was always weird and hard in a way. Like what matters for me when I dance is the environment-I'm in because I feed off everybody. So when there's people who have the passion for it, but just don't have the financial stability to pursue it or either the will or they are scared it's always a little pinch in the heart. But also it helps me because I tell myself it is also for them I'm doing it.
What is the difference for you between New York and Paris creatively?
It's more free to create in New York. There's so many opportunities there. So many places. And there are a lot of communities well co-ordinated. In Europe and in France, it's harder to just walk somewhere and see a group of dancers and go work with them. When you are in New York, people will have their arms open to you for you to step in and dance for them. This is a big difference, a big cultural difference. Community wise, even though I could feel the difference from the cultural aspect-but this is not something that stops them from inviting me and for me to feel invited.
It is my fourth year in New York, and in those years going back and forth I have seen the growth in France. When I see some of my friends are finding a lot more opportunities than a few years ago. So, I feel like France is evolving and Europe also but at a different pace. Just because in New York it is such an eclectic city so there's every kind of dancer, every kind of artist. It's so much more freedom in expression-where there's established venues to do it or they just create their own venues-which is why I am so inspired.
When you say create your own venues-what do you mean?
Well, your own safe space. For example, three weeks ago a woman I met at the club and that I did not know anything about, sent me an invitation about movements class that she created. She invited the DJ, she invited the artists, singers, painters and there were paintings decorating the space. So there was this moment when arriving in the space, it felt like it was in New York but not in New York and the time stopped and you had to experience something that's bigger than everybody-and created by just one person who had an idea. This is where I acknowledge it a lot in New York. People just pop up with ideas and open their space to everybody.
I have another friend who is doing voguing. It was raining alot and this friend was supposed to be training with this legendary dancer who didn't come. He invited us to come instead-even though I'm not a voguing dancer-I don't especially have the will to be but I just wanted to discover something and I was welcome in the space. I did the same with Capoeira-I just pop up in a class-tried it and was welcome in the space. That why I love it so much-every community that is created in New York is open to everybody.
Do you find your training in ballet allows you to engage other styles?
I feel like it does. At first I thought it was constraining. Because I felt thatI had an image of how movement should be. And it's only when I started doing so many different techniques-it was a bit confusing because of usually only focusing on one technique for so long. That in order to understand a different technique I would have to do it for years and years-which is still accurate. But the fact that I was moving from one technique to another technique when I was in school gave me little introductions to things that I love and also show me what I dislike. But mostly how well my mind switches as fast as what my body is going to do. So it is a strength to have this ballet training.
Is it accurate to say that ballet his at the highest level of technique execution?
I feel like ballet is something being promoted differently. It is being promoted. And it's something that is part of society so that whenever someone asks...it's are you a dancer or are you a ballet dancer? Even though there are other things-so many styles that people are not aware of how many different techniques-different styles there is-but then everybody always refers to ballet. And that is also what I used to do before my discovery.
Ballet has a lot of discipline. It was created out of shapes and images. So in order to learn ballet-you can watch videos to see how people place their body-what shape it's supposed to be. There's names of positions. There's so many other styles that are not like this. There's so many other styles where you watch videos-it's a lot harder to figure out. There were times where I felt stuck-where I could not express myself in ballet just because the movement was too pretty-in my opinion and I did not want to dance pretty.
It's like when there's a position and you hold the position and are either super happy or you are sad. That can be the repertoire of ballet. And with this I can be stuck in my emotions knowing there is a lot more. With this I know there are lot more techniques which are not just accessible through ballet.
People that freestyle and improvise-they are practicing they craft outside of these restrictions for them to be able to do the moves they are going to do. It's just that ballet is so qualified with perfecting structured moves.
Does music impact ballet vis-a-vis classical, jazz etc...?
In the world that I grew up in, yes. It was mostly super classical. You might have something super fancy when it is a little jazzy. Even though you can be ballet and it be against different genres of music, where the dance will be in complete opposite of the movement. I believe and like sometimes when the music is going with the movement, but sometimes confronting it. That being-in ballet it is often times classical or sometimes jazzy.
It is interesting to see how ballet can actually fit with a lot of music. It is just people don't see it like this and are so stuck with how it should be.
Could for example you see a choreographed ballet performance set against a house music DJ?
I'm sure they generally the ballet community would say no, no, no. When I represented a work to one of my teachers at when I was in Paris she was like no, you absolutely don't look like a ballerina. And I was like, that was not the goal. Who wants to be a ballerina when you can be an artist. It's only about the style you are investing in-it's about how you use it.
Whenever I teach ballet-I don't always use classical music. It can create a ceiling-to the environment. The music is also really important. It's really important to set the goal-how you are going to move to that. The movement can be a movement and can be meaningless-but the music is giving it texture and more to it.
When you are dancing in ballet, is it important for you to have heard the music before to know each particular break or note inflection to perform in sync?
Often times I love to choose music that has a lot of textures, different nuances-that's what I love to use. Not only to dance in the rhythm but in-between, to make it interesting. The music is giving it a lot, so not only should you use the main beat-there is what's in between.
Do you find there are venues where you feel more joy and emotion performing?
It does depend. And sometimes it's the people that I dance with that are helping me to get my mind where I need to get it. Or it can be what the evening is about or the people that are coming into the space itself-that can make it exciting.
One of my performances in June of last year-the audience was near the water and it was where I could actually see the water and I was like...oh, nature that's different! Typically, whenever you dance in a theater you can barely see the audience. So having something that is bigger than everything also inspires me so much.
Are there any goals or projects you'd like to be working on in the future?
Well, I definitely want to keep on experiencing life-move with what I feel. See what's brings me where I'm supposed to go. I'm really open to the future. I'd like to stay in the United States to feel that energy. Then I'd also like to travel-experience and discover to help contribute to the person I want to become.
And last, is there anywhere you would like to travel?
The next trip travel destination I thought of was India-cause I want to study Indian dance. Brazil for Capoeira. Then randomly to Egypt.