In 2022, the transnational collective La Fleur presented TRIO in the courtyard of the Santa Chiara monastery, a brilliant show about migration stories of urban dance styles in the metropolises of this world. Now the Coupé Décalé star Ordinateur from Côte d’Ivoire (former dancer of DJ Arafat’s ensemble, now a choreographer and member of La Fleur) returns to Palermo. Together with the Ivorian dancer and singer Annick Choco and theatermaker Monika Gintersdorfer, they develop a performance about dance, football and showbiz in a three-week workshop with a group of young Palermitans exploring their role models, ambitions and opportunities.
Dance, showbiz and football have close links in many African countries: Many singers from African countries quote the names of the football players they love in their songs. Successful African football players want to celebrate their victories and let their most beloved African singers and dancers perform for them in the clubs. Since Ordinateur settled in Europe a few years ago, he has built many friendships and collaborations with African football players in Barcelona, Leverkusen and Paris who, like him, have chosen the path to Europe. They share the willingness to assume the risk of exposing themselves to an unknown situation, even if they are already renowned artists and footballers in their home countries.
The asymmetries in the North-South divide come into focus: Many dancers, musicians and footballers develop their skills in African countries as a matter of course in everyday life. But they later have to look for opportunities to earn money in Europe, where concentrated financial capital and infrastructure, the best clubs and leagues and a differentiated system of cultural promotion attract all the talent.
“We call it: atalakus”
Annick Choco in conversation with curator Eva-Maria Bertschy
Eva: The workshop that you are going to do in Palermo connects with the piece “Les chercheurs” in which you talk about your artistic trajectories and especially about the moment you settled in Europe. You have a residence permit in Germany now, you tour a lot in Europe with your shows and you go back and forth between Europe and the Ivory Coast, how did you find your way here?
Annick: I was the girlfriend of the son of the German ambassador who lived in Ivory Coast. One evening I was at his house and Monika Gintersdorfer came to the residence to make a video with other singers from Abidjan. So my friend woke me up and told me that I should go and see what was going on. I went to talk to Monika and told her that I wanted to participate. I danced, they filmed and I signed a paper that said I should get a fee. I was really happy because I didn’t expect that.
Two years later, Monika called me to ask if I would like to take part in a piece with the title “L’Ambassadeur”, about the life of the German ambassador in Abidjan. I have been working with Monika for nine years now.
But despite the fact that I had invitations from well-known theatres, and we went on extensive touring, there were always complications with my visas. In the third year I was travelling back and forth between Europe and Africa, I was stopped at the airport. I had already shown them my visa and all the other documents, but they were looking for a paper that was in my suitcase which I didn’t have access to. They told me: either you go back immediately or you go to prison for three days. Fortunately, the director of the festival who had invited us intervened and I was able to leave after a few days.
So even if you have all your papers, even if you are in order, the stress never ends because you never know when they are going to complicate you. A year ago I was able to apply for permanent residence in Europe.
Eva: These are administrative procedures that complicate the travel of people who go back and forth between African and European countries for professional reasons. Even if it is never explicitly stated, it is quite obvious that they are put in place on purpose. They are often directed against young people who come to work in Europe. Annick: There is always a doubt that they might stay illegally in the country. How do you experience this situation?
If European dancers want to come to Africa for a project, they never have any problems. They apply for a visa and it’s done straight away. We African artists are always asked for new proof that we have serious projects, adequate income, insurance, hotel reservations etc. And even if you provide all this, there is always a doubt, as you say. But we are doing the same job. It’s very tiring to have to prove all the time that you are a professional artist, even if you have already had a great career. Sometimes when the visa arrives, the project is already finished. We lose a lot of opportunities that way.
Often, when I came back to Abidjan after my projects in Europe, friends would say to me: Why don’t you stay there? Many of them had already tried several times to get a visa for Europe, which was refused, even though they are recognised artists here and even though they had all the necessary papers. They always find something missing, a small mistake…
Eva: Many choose to stay in Europe even if they are illegal afterwards.
Annick: Yes, I had the advantage that I was in a structure that I trusted completely. I knew that if I returned to Abidjan, they would call me for the next project. But not everyone is so lucky. They fear that if they go back, the next time their visa will be refused. So it’s the same policy of making it difficult for artists to get back and forth that causes them to escape. And then they use the cases of artists escaping as an argument to ban return trips even though the artists have all the necessary papers to do so. It’s a vicious circle.
Eva: Do you also know people who have chosen to cross the desert and the Mediterranean to get to Europe?
Annick: At this very moment, a friend of mine is ready to leave. He is saving money to get to Morocco and from there to Europe.
Eva: Are young people in Abidjan aware of the risks they take to get here when they choose this route?
Annick: We try to explain it to them, but they say: We are already born. And since things are not going well here, if we leave and have to die on the way, that’s how it is. But we want to run towards our dream. And there you can’t stop them.
Eva: In the workshop and performance that you are going to do in Palermo with a group of young people, you talk about football and dance. Because often these are the dreams that motivate young people to make this long journey to Europe and take a lot of risks: to dance, to make music, to play in a well-known team. What is your relationship with football?
Annick: Seven years ago, I made a song that the footballers in Ivory Coast liked very much. They always danced to it in their dressing rooms. That’s when I got to know a lot of footballers. Afterwards, they wanted me to sing their names in my songs. Singers often praise footballers in their songs and the footballers pay them when they mention their names. We call it: atalakus.
Footballers like to hang out with artists to de-stress after a match. Many of them, when their talent is discovered, leave a small village in Africa and move to a city in Europe where they know no one. They are often young and have not had much experience, never having lived in a city. They start to discover a lot of things and they often frequent the milieu of African artists. When we play in Europe, there are always some players who come to see our shows. They follow us. I know a lot of footballers from Africa who play in European cities.
Dancers: Fidelia, Maybel, Matti, Melissa, Abbas, Francis, Joshua, Traoré, Camará, Daniel, Daniel e Marco.
Choreography: Ordinateur, Annick Choco and Monika Gintersdorfer | Text: Monika Gintersdorfer and ensemble | Video: Eric Tagbo
Production: Letizia Gullo | Assistant: Tiziano Locci
In collaboration with AMUNI’ – Laboratorio per storie di uomini, donne, migrazione e discriminazione, Area Madera and Associazione Santa Chiara
With the support of: