30.01.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Premiere of the Grand Ballet Bassari, a goldmine of ethnic diversity

© UNESCO/Anne Müller - Dancers celebrating the first performance of the Grand Ballet Bassari

A visual and musical explosion. A goldmine of ethnic diversity.

These were two of the comments made by the audience after the premiere of the Grand Bassari on 19 January 2012 in Kédougou, the main town in Senegal's southeastern corner.

The Grand Ballet Bassari is a major achievement, says Amadou Ndoye, consultant at UNESCO Dakar, who has closely followed the creation of the Ballet during the last six months.

The Ballet is the result of a joint UN programme, the MDG-F project "The Promotion of Cultural Initiatives and Industries in Senegal" that was launched in 2009 and runs until September 2012.

UNESCO is supervising the Project and a delegation of UN and national officials attended the premiere.

Numerous ethnics

The Grand Ballet Bassari regroups traditional dance and music of the five main ethnic groups in Pays Bassari, one of Senegal's most ethnic diverse regions.

The 60 min show gives a good snapshot of the region. It features traditional dancers in colorful costumes and with accompanying music from the following ethnics: bassari, bedik, peuls, malinké and diallonké.

"It gives us proud and is a source of hope for the whole region," says the deputy governor of Kédougou region, Mamadou Gueye.

Difficult process

"A dance company is born," says Mamadou Diop who is the choreographer of the Ballet.

"It wasn't easy to do, as we had to discipline the dancers and musicians," he adds.

The performers had to understand that they could only dance and play music at certain times during the show.

In the villages people are used to dance and play music until they are tired or lack inspiration.

"Suddenly they had to respect the notion of space, how to move or play, and then the time limitations, when to do it," says Diop.

Fight influence of TV

The choreographer adds, that he also had to fight the degeneration of the traditional dance from the influence of TV.

"We have for example a girl who made all the right steps while the boys from her ethnic group thought they danced traditionally but in fact they did not," comments Seyba Traoré art director of the Ballet.

The selection of performers was done through auditions and the company includes 60 performers covering several generations.

The costumes were all made specifically for the Ballet and are inspired by the traditional outfit.

Abibatou Youm Diab Siby, Executive Director of the Office of Copyright in Senegal, has played a key role in the creation of the ballet. She has coordinated the work and ensured the training of many local artists and artisans in copyright and related rights.

Next stop Dakar

Next stop is the national premiere in Dakar later this year. The Grand Ballet Bassari also plans a tour in other parts of the Pays Bassari region, and perhaps even in other countries.

"The Ballet has been a great opportunity for the different ethnics to come together. Now they want to work together also outside the project," says Traoré. "This proves that the Ballet has not betrayed their culture but is a true presentation of it".

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