Mime maestro back home to teach technique
Posted Monday, October 8 2012 at 20:58
Opiyo Okach didn’t join what UN agencies like Unesco and UNDP call ‘the creative economy’ to get rich quick.
When he took to the stage with Jacob Otieno and the Friends Theatre Company in the late 1980s, it was primarilly for the love of performing.
But he has always been prepared to push the boundaries of what he knows and experiment with the unknown. So when French Cultural Centre director Guy le Croix brought a mime artist, Laurent Decol, from Paris in 1989, Okach took part in his workshop. It was a milestone and the first step of a journey that has seen him perform all over Africa and Europe.
“At the time, I certainly didn’t think of myself as a mime artist, but I sort of fell into that role,” said the lean and lanky performing artiste who initially made a name for himself in Nairobi as Kenya’s first professional mime artiste.
But it wasn’t just the technique of mime —the silent art that uses the body to ‘speak’ and shape meanings — that Okach acquired from Decol. It was also the workshop experience as a learning domain. Initially, it was as a student of mime and contemporary dance, but increasingly, it has been as the instructor and workshop facilitator.
It is in the latter capacity that Okach is back in Nairobi. He’s facilitating a month-long contemporary dance workshop at the GoDown Art Centre for contemporary dancers and aspiring choreographers from 10 African countries. They are from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.
The workshop, entitled ‘Chrysalides,’ is an ambitious three-country affair. The first phase was in Senegal, the second now in Nairobi while the final phase will be held in Oagadougou, said Okach.
Okach devised the project with three other leading African dancer-choreographers, Germane Acogny — who’s considered the ‘mother’ of contemporary African dance — and the team of Salia Sanou and Seyclou Boro.
Responding to a call for creative arts project proposals that went out from the Belgian Government, Okach called the three to brainstorm in France, the country he has adopted as his second home since marrying Claire, a French citizen who worked for Alliance Francaise in Nairobi.
The project is funded by the Belgian government, EU and French Institute with infrastructural assistance from the GoDown.
Okach had met all the three at dance festivals and workshops in Africa and Europe over the past 15 years, ever since he attended his first ‘African Choreography Encounters’ in Madagascar in 1997. Invited as a member of the Gaara [Dance] Project, which Okach formed together with Fanstin Linyekula and Afrah Tenambergan in 1996, the trio had choreographed their first contemporary dance called ‘Cleansing’, which paved the way for untold opportunities, both to workshop and to travel and develop their own skills. The Gaara Project is still the name Okach’s choreography is known by, although the other two members of the troupe had to move on.
Even as his current workshop is focused on cultivating the creative process, with a significant chunk of donor funding, Okach is as much an artist as an astute entrepreneur.
One manifestation of his business acumen is having established two support structures, one in France, the other in Kenya where he’s recently returned after giving solo performances of his latest choreographed work entitled ‘Dilo’ in Germany and Holland.
He received a British Council scholarship in 1990 to study in London at the Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre.
Working with the Benin-born choreographer-dancer Sophia Tou and two European specialists in spacial relations and sound, Okach is addressing one of the most pressing problems observed by proponents of an African creative economy: building of creative capacity. He is one global artist who comes back to Kenya primarily to work, that is, to teach and perform. He’s also a sterling example of how the arts and enterprise can merge to make new fields for the creative economy in Kenya and Africa to flourish.
The Chrysalides project will perform six original dances on October 12 at the Godown Art Centre.