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Flash Review 1, 10-24: De Keersmaeker's Lovely Mess
Lamine Thiam Sounds Off On "Drumming"

By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei

NEW YORK -- Lamine Thiam is a tall and elegant Senegalese dancer, a cross between a gazelle and Giacometti's Walking Man. Trained at the Conservatoire National du Senegal in Dakar, Thiam has spent the past eight years in New York, teaching professional dancers and novices the intricacies of West African sabar and djembe dance. As a teacher, he is gracious, kind and challenging, the next best thing to liquid sunshine. As a performer, he is nothing short of dazzling. His long limbs fold into his body at crisp angles. His legs appear to hang from hinges and shoot up and down with equal amounts of force. Dancing car pistons. Thiam holds his body loose, joints rotating freely like marionette parts held together by strings, yet his technique is immaculate, polyrhythmically precise. He introduces steps not through counts but phonics used for teaching stick and hand strokes on a drum. "Raz, raz, raz-kisa-ghin, raz-kisa-ghin, ki-tas." Drumming is an intrinsic part of his dance. "We learn rhythms as we learn steps. The steps are a part of the rhythm." The Dance Insider asked Thiam to provide commentary on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's rhythmically-inspired "Drumming," seen Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on her company Rosas. His first response after the show: "I loved it."

Lamine Thiam: What De Keersmaeker makes is really nice. The dancers are beautiful and the choreography well-structured.

Rosa Mei: What was your initial response to the work?

LT: When I first saw it, I didn't understand it. It looked very messy. Then you realize that it is not a mess at all but well-done choreography. Out of all the chaos, there comes an order. I like that.

RM: What struck you most about the performance?

LT: The way the dancers travel, the way they use the space. The spatial patterns are quite intricate. When I see a piece like that, I learn as well, because the choreography is both complex and transparent.

RM: Did you see any similarities between your style of dance and De Keersmaeker's? Any differences?

LT: I was actually more impressed by the similarities than the differences. Our vocabularies differ, but in essence they are very similar. Take for instance the movement where they toss their head back, fling their arms behind their body and step back with one leg.

RM: At the conservatory in Senegal, did you train in ballet and modern dance?

LT: Yes, the training was very diverse. We primarily studied West African dance, but we also learned ballet, modern and jazz dance. We were taught to appreciate all dance styles.

RM: Did rhythm training play a large role in your dance classes?

LT: Yes, very much so. But we learn differently in Africa. We learn more by apprenticing with a company and practicing with older students. In class, we watch and learn from the masters and practice the rhythms first without the drum. We must first learn to hear. Then we go with the drums. The younger, less experienced students do not participate. They stand on the sides and watch.

RM: De Keersmaeker has her own school P.A.R.T.S. where students are trained to become thinking performers, meaning they work towards the actual performance. De Keersmaeker designed the curriculum.

LT: Actually, you can see the strong training in her dancers. They work quite well as a group.

RM: And what was your response to Steve Reich's percussive score? He visited Africa in 1970 and began composing "Drumming" the following year.

LT: I didn't really care for it. I heard an African drum in it, but it's not really African. Not at all. It comes from a different source completely and has a bit of an African touch.

RM: So how as a dancer would you have responded to Reich's music?

LT: If I were to dance to it, I would first listen for the African beat, then possibly go against the music. Really anything is possible. African dance has a great deal of improvisation.

RM: A final statement on the dance as a whole... did it work for you? Were you satisfied?

LT: I thought it was very good. The dancers, the concept, the choreography.... It made sense to me. What they are doing is something truly beautiful.

Editor's note: Lamine Thiam teaches at Djoniba Drum and Dance Center in Manhattan and is a faculty member of the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. Rosa Mei is a choreographer, dancer, and web designer, and the Dance Insider's Belgium bureau chief.

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