With this season’s collection inspired by contemporary dancer Martha Graham, who revolutionised the art form in the 20th century, we interview present-day pioneer Alesandra Seutin, whose collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, Reckonings, opens next month.
Dressed in a loose tracksuit, Alesandra Seutin is critiquing a studio full of young African dancers. An instrumental kora piece is softly playing in the background. It’s three weeks away from Reckonings’ opening night at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre. I’m told to take a seat in the green room and Alesandra follows suit. She sits down, clears her throat and takes a sip of water, a woman with a story to tell…
“It all started in my home in Belgium. My Southern African mum would play music from the record player on Sundays after breakfast. My two brothers and I would be dancing with mum whilst my Belgian father would sit and observe with a coffee by his side, tapping his foot.
I began taking classes at the age of eight. My jazz teacher was the one who pushed me to pursue dance, and with permission from my mother, she took me to my first dance show: Pina Bausch. By the time I was 18, I knew I had to move from Belgium to London if I wanted to make this my career. Now I’m a teacher, mentor, choreographer and performer. My schedule is crazy, but it’s healthy and keeps me happy.
My section in Reckonings features seven international African dancers, accompanied by five live musicians and a young male vocalist who acts as the story’s protagonist. It’s about visceral bodies and intelligent minds. Inspired by memories from the past, as well as a poem I found by Gwendolyn Brookes called 'Boy Breaking Glass', my piece explores identity, race, hierarchy, frustration, liberation and pride – all guided by a constant force that we must bring light into darkness. The audience should expect dynamic and athletic movement, with a rollercoaster of emotions and little pricks of shock that make you question yourself.
Love, freedom & equality
These are my passions. All of my work is about this, and I think life should be too. The way I work is holistic; I draw on life experience, not just technique. My style is to use movement with a lot of heart, grounding and sound. It’s not just about the steps, but the meaning behind it. I tell stories through bodies, music and voices, which all carry identities. I identify with my backgrounds simultaneously, but the outside world sometimes forces me to choose. It’s frustrating – I don’t want to play or fit by the system. I have to make a point that I am who I am and that my identity is mine to choose!
For the future generation who feel marginalised by their identity, my advice would be to keep working, owning it and serving it. Stay in your lane, evolve and keep good company. As artists, we can create something beautiful out of something horrible. We can change perspectives and visualise the future.”
Milestones & movements
A few years ago I was accredited with the title to teach Germaine Acogny’s - the Mother of African contemporary dance - techniques. Meeting and training with her was a catalyst in my development as an artist, as well as in my journey as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. I feel privileged to be the only one in the UK, but also very responsible to continue sharing that knowledge with other dancers in the UK and around the world.
Apart from my new piece with Sadler’s Wells, I am still showing my solo show, having just performed in Brazil. I have another duet piece called Giant which I created on a Belgian based dancer, and am doing the dramaturgy for twin Congolese urban dance makers in Brussels. In 2007 I also founded Vocab Dance Company, a dance group that fuses traditional African dance with contemporary and urban dance forms, from a feminine perspective. This changed when I created a solo on myself, which took me around the world, and the focus shifted back to me as the artist too. Now that I am back with the group, the identity is stronger because I am stronger as an artist. It will soon be renamed Alesandra Seutin Movement.