Shelly Ohene-Nyako graduated from NSCD in 2017 with a BPA in Contemporary Dance. This month, she's been performing on screens across the world in the Sadler's Wells broadcast of Dancing at Dusk - a film which transports the original choreography of Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring to a beach in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal.
Filmed just before lockdown, the film captures the final rehearsal of a company of 38 dancers from 14 countries in Africa. The film is available to watch until Friday 31 July on the Sadler's Wells website.
We caught up with Shelly to find out what it was like working with the Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables on the project.
READ ON FOR THE INTERVIEW
It was announced on the 13th of March after our first two dress rehearsals that the theatres in Germany and Senegal were closing and that we had to go home. We were devastated because we had only 10 days until our premiere. Some people like myself left their whole lives in Ghana for this project and obviously rehearsing 5-6 days a week for over a month for no performance was hard on us because it was intense work.
The following day they proposed that we film the piece at the beach. We had never rehearsed on the sand; what you see in the video was our first run-through on sand. The experience was amazing because we had an amazing group that worked hard for it to happen, but also scary because dancing on sand was way harder on our legs. I remember thinking about my centre and my feet and asking God to make me rooted, to be able to apply the movement like I was taught. At first we were trying not to fall over, then after a while you just had to trust yourself and really be “in” your feet. After the run-through, I wasn’t really happy until I saw our rehearsal directors smiling and telling us they were impressed with how we managed. I did fall once, like a few of us, but thanks to the group dynamic it didn’t stop me from continuing.
When I see the video today I am impressed by my colleagues. We obviously still have corrections to improve on but the dynamic and sharing was so real and honest, which is what they were looking for.
It is wonderful to be part of this project, I feel like I am where I want to be in my career with the chance to share it with brothers and sisters from Africa. Being part of this project is really emotional. We call the group “the African family” as we have 14 countries represented from the African continent, and I feel that we share something profound together. The age range is between 18 and 35, which creates this “family” feeling when you enter the room.
We learnt the piece exactly how Pina made it, but we have dancers from different generations of the Pina Bausch Company who each bring a different way of interpreting the story or little details that have changed over the years.
Our tour is postponed until January 2021, and will start in Paris if the situation with COVID-19 stays stable.
After graduating, I went to Switzerland for 11 months and worked as a freelance dancer for Cie Umadanse and Neopost Foofwa. I toured with the companies and performed In Your Arms for Cie Umadanse. I started going to Ghana during breaks in rehearsal periods and moved there in June 2018, giving ballet classes to children aged 3 to 15 years old.
In 2019 I performed at two African dance festivals: the Festival of International Dance of Ouagadougou (FIDO) in Burkina Faso and Alliance Française in Ghana.
In September 2019 I was asked to choreograph for the African Leadership Network event “Daring to Dance” with other famous afrobeat dancers such as Sherrie Silver.
In December 2019 I was invited to audition for The Rite of Spring at École des Sables in Senegal, known as one of the most famous African contemporary dance schools. I took a 2-year contract with the Pina Bausch Foundation and Sadler’s Wells for the “Sacre” project.
École des Sables was built in the early 2000s by Helmut Vogt and Germaine Acogny, who is known as the mother of African contemporary dance. They created a programme for young talented dancers to train in the Acogny technique and have workshops led by people from all around the world. They also collaborate with other schools like P.A.R.T.S and other big names in African contemporary dance.
The school is a village where you have two studios (a dust and a wood one.) There are then small houses for the dancers to sleep with showers, toilets and a canteen where food is prepared for us.
I thank Northern for their versatile training and especially accompaniment on drums. I also am grateful that I got injured during training, as it helped me to know my body and build up my body with everyday training. All the classes that I had brought me something after graduating. I realised how lucky I was that I could apply what I learned afterwards to other dancers or students of dance to help them get stronger in knowing their body and making it adaptable to different styles.
I also have to give special thanks to my ballet teachers, Hana, Eric and Nathalie, who always pushed me to be precise and push my comfort zone as they believed in my potential as a technical dancer. But also Tiia who always made me understand how to continue to adapt the training to injuries without giving up classes, Jennifer Lynn and Matt for their exploration of animalistic styles and spacial awareness, Fran and Janet for responding to some of my propositions after graduating and showing moral support, Fabiano for the mindset and exercises that I still use to cool down every day after rehearsals and any staff members that helped me believe in myself and gave me tools to be a strong dancer not only physically but mentally as well.
We have dates booked for the beginning of 2021: if everything goes to plan we will start rehearsing in December for 20 days to work on corrections and perfect the movement of the piece. There is also plan B and plan C and we can see that our managers are really defending the project, working to make it happen whenever the situation gets better.
It’s not easy but I feel really supported by the project “Sacre” and excited for us to restart and perfect the work.
Dancing at Dusk is available to watch until Friday 31 July on the Sadler’s Wells website.