«I wanted to express myself, and dancing allowed me to do that».

Article, 11.11.2013

Interview with Yaya Sarria, dancer and choreographer of the Chadian company «Sabot du Vent»

Choreographer Yaya Sarria shares his experience as an artist in Chad and talks about the liberating role of contemporary dance in a country facing considerable challenges. In 2013 as part of the dance festival «juilletdanse» in Fribourg, Yaya Sarria presented a production created in conjunction with Tonia Schilling and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation. His diligence, creativity and desire to succeed show that Chadian artists have a role to play on the international scene.

Yaya Sarria, what does it mean to be an artist, particularly a dancer, in Chad?
In Chad, dancing is still mainly related to traditional rites. «Choreographed dancing» as it is called is not well known and is even marked by many prejudices as it touches on certain taboos surrounding people's relationships with their own and other people's bodies. With our dance company «Sabot du Vent» we go to meet the people and we always try to challenge, not shock them. As little as ten years ago, we would have had no audience. But now, people even travel to see us.

To what extent can culture influence development and contribute to reducing poverty in your opinion?
Let's take dance as an example. It not only makes you feel self-confident and comfortable in front of an audience, but also gives you dignity and the ability to find a place in society. In general, culture can play an important role in education. Children in our area are often affected by alcohol, prostitution, homelessness and glue-addiction. Growing up in such conditions, the likelihood of their sinking into violence rather than integrating into society is high. Our dance company has a very specific project to offer them an alternative. We want to create a centre offering activities that help them channel and deal with these issues, and ultimately to train as dancers or percussionists.

What message did you want to convey in your performance «Ichane or It was God that I was looking for» (»Ichane ou C’était Dieu que je cherchais») presented in July in 2013 in Fribourg?
Like most of our productions, this piece spoke mainly about identity and the acceptance of others. Artistic productions should touch people and make them react. To do this, I draw ideas from what I have seen and what I feel. For example, after having been insulted and treated like a monkey during a trip to North Africa, I expressed my anger by creating a solo dance «No roots» («Sans racine») which denounces violence based on a person's origin or race.

What does stepping onto the international scene mean to you?
It is an essential step for our work to be recognised. When I decided to become a dancer, for a while I became distanced from some of those closest to me who didn't understand what I wanted to do. The first time that I went abroad for a dance production, my family followed me to the airport in N'Djaména just to believe it. Things are different today. Working together with Switzerland and the Fribourg choreographer Tonia Schilling has given us a lot of hope. Our trip to Switzerland even received funding from the state of Chad. This is very rare indeed and should be noted as a strong signal that our work is important for the identity and image of our country.

Tell us about the general public in Fribourg, how did they react to you?
Thanks to the workshops we organised in Fribourg and the «move in town» studio, we could perform at the station, the market and in the streets. We were able to talk about our work with many people which, in general, seemed very easy to do in Switzerland. Following on from the interest generated by our workshops, we would like to make it possible for Swiss dancers to train in traditional dance in Chad.

What are the biggest challenges facing people in Chad?
Young people are leaving the countryside to find work in the capital where they find themselves left to their own devices in a city where life is very expensive. Girls are the most vulnerable - if they are unfortunate enough to have become pregnant, without money or a fiancé, they can no longer go back to their village and end up falling into prostitution. This problem should be tackled at its source by going to the countryside and talking with young people about the realities of the city, the risk of widespread diseases such as AIDS and the importance of using condoms. We try to get the message across through dance because as artists, we are also there to show what is not working in order to change it.

What was it in particular that drove you to dance and choreography?
After I finished school, my parents were no longer able to pay for my education. So I threw myself into theatre but quickly became aware that this wouldn't suit me because in theatre, the text is already written. I wanted to express myself, and dancing allowed me to do that.