Michel P Kouakou
- Theatre Arts and Dance
- Liberal Arts: Barker center for Dance
Contemporary artist Michel Kouakou believes “dance can come from anywhere, and be anywhere.” Fluent in the language of dance on four continents, he draws inspiration for his technique from the aesthetic traditions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. But his personal identity as a dancer is firmly rooted in Africa, the source of his earliest experiences with and studies in movement. Born in Cote d’Ivoire, Mr. Kouakou was discovered at the age of 15 while dancing in the streets of Abidjan and was recruited by Were Were Liking to live and train in a “cooperative” arts center, Village Ki-Yi M’Bock. It was she, who introduced him to the “spiritual dimension of a life through the arts” and gave him a faith in the “unlimited potential of art.” In addition to dance, he studied acrobatics at the Marionette Theater. Ms. Liking’s lessons were extended by Mr. Kouakou’s next mentor. He had already won several prizes for dance in Abidjan when he began to study with Germane Acogny, at L’ecole de Sables, in Senegal. “Germaine,” he says, “taught me to define myself by embracing the larger world of contemporary dance.” She directed him to a path along which he would be influenced and motivated by artists from all over the world, and is, in part, the reason he now considers himself a global artist. When, in 1999, the war in Cote d’Ivoire caused the destruction of arts facilities and institutions there, Mr. Kouakou, determined to feed his “hunger to continue studying and developing as an artist,” traveled to Brussels, where he worked with choreographer Bud Blumenthal. It was the first of many such explorations Mr. Kouakou would make while refining his choreographic style. In Japan, he encountered Butoh and recognized the similarities between this movement form and the African traditions of “trance” dancing. Over time, he would also work with choreographers from Burkina Faso, Germany, Italy, and, ultimately, the United States. In 2003, Mr. Kouakou joined the faculty at the Duncan Centre Conservatory in Prague, to teach modern dance for six months. That same year, he formed his own company, Daara Dance. With his company, he has performed at New York’s Dance Theater Workshop’s Studio Series, Joyce Soho, and the Bric Studio; at the Bates Dance Festival; and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Internationally, he has presented his work in Britain, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Czech Republic, France, Holland, Israel, and Italy. He is also in demand as a teacher, offering workshops and classes throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States. Mr. Kouakou is a recipient of the 2012 Vilcek Award for Creative Promise and also a winner of the Jerome Foundation Fellowship for research in dance and 2008 NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Artist Fellowship and was a 2008 winner of the U.S. Japan Fellowship for 6 months of research in Tokyo and Kyoto. He was nominated for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in 2008 and was a finalist in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2010 in New York City and Los Angeles. Mr. Kouakou moved to New York in 2004, and in 2009 subsequently to Los Angeles as a dance lecturer at UCLA until 2015. His research explores the intersection of three specific dance traditions which he developed and named his AFASAM Technique – derived from the first two alphabetical letters of those three continents: Africa, Asia, and America. The movement vocabulary offers an in-depth experience on how to unleash a contained moving body within its spiritual realm while being rhythmically present in space. The blend of West African dances, mostly known for their spiritual and percussive orientation, with Butoh, dealing with the inner part of the body, alongside the western Modern dance technique that emphasizes the alignment of the body and space, combines to create a free flow and dynamic movement that describes the spectrum of the AFASAM Technique. As a practice, it builds an advanced body, brain, and artistic spirit with a concept of weight within the execution of each movement. He plans to “maintain his footsteps” across the globe as he pursues his long-term goal of building an “artistic bridge” between his origins in Cote d’Ivoire and the United States. Currently, Mr. Kouakou is on track as a tenured lecturer here at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.