Antoinette Gomis – interview
Now in its 13th year, the Breakin’ Convention (see listing) annual festival will be kicking off its national tour in our fair city of London. This year’s urban dance jamboree will feature renowned international artists from the global hip hop and contemporary dance scene. Experimental dance act Iron Skulls will be flying in from Barcelona and Dutch b-boying crew The Ruggeds will also be joining the action, alongside a plethora of dynamic new acts. Headlining this year’s line-up is award winning street dancer and choreographer Antoinette Gomis.
The French performer, originally from Les Mureaux, will be performing her solo piece Images, which was inspired by the Nina Simone track of the same name. In an exclusive interview with the artist we discuss her motivations for the piece, and as an added bonus I hear the velvety tones of her co-choreographer Cyril Machenaud who occasionally steps in as translator. I find myself cursing my lack of dedication to my French teacher, Mrs Daunton as Gomis describes the piece in gorgeous, rolling Franco-phraseology.
“Myself and Cyril Machenaud and Liz Gomis, we created this piece as a tribute to Nina Simone and to black women too. We talk about her music and her message to the people through her music. The piece talks about a black woman who doesn’t see the beauty of herself with her black skin. In the piece I use a lot of different movements and also I use sign language to express and create new movement.”
We created this piece as a tribute to Nina Simone and to black women too. The piece talks about a black woman who doesn’t see the beauty of herself with her black skin.
Simone’s song depicts a woman who ‘thinks her brown body has no glory’ and explores the limited beauty ideals of the western world. Gomis explains that her motivation for the piece is drawn from personal experience.
“It’s something that I relate to, I lived this when I was a teenager. For me, I felt I was OK, but a friend of mine and some other people told me some jokes about my skin. To them it was funny, but for me it was painful. I started to complain and feel frustrated by my dark skin because of this.”
Gomis shares that throughout the piece, the character gradually evolves, coming to embrace and celebrate her appearance. Having struggled with negative self-images as a teenager, I am curious to know how the performer sees herself now.
“Now I’m totally OK. When I entered high school, I began to feel more confident about my dark skin. I love my skin, I stay in the sun in the summer to be more dark (Laughs.)”
The Zamounda Crew member puts her increased self-confidence partly down to her involvement in dance, revealing: “When I start to dance hip hop I saw that it wasn’t about the physique, the colour, the size. You just have to be a person with good movement and to be free. I think hip-hop helped me to be more free. My family too, they helped me to be a woman and to respect myself with some value.”
Gomis started dancing at the age of six and later became deeply involved in the hip hop scene, going on to perform with the likes of Madonna and beat off the competition to win the Street Star Wacking Battle in Sweden. When asked what makes the hip hop genre so inclusive, Gomis explains “We came from everywhere and we came with our culture and we share our culture in the dance. I think it made me feel confident about myself, and I think I would be a different person if I had done classical dance or ballet.”
The artist’s family background is from Senegal and Guinea Bissau, which Gomis says has a big influence upon her choreography, commenting: “I use some African moves in my dance and I use some traditional Senegalese moves in this piece. The way that I move, I think I naturally use some movements of my country. In hip hop, all these things come together in the dance.”
Whilst Gomis has headed several advertising campaigns and performed with some top names, she prefers not discuss the more commercial side of her career (so I won’t mention any names here!) Deeply dedicated to her art, she is more focused upon inspiring and relating to people through her dance: “The most important thing for me is to share my love of dancing and to make sure that people understand what I am trying to say in my pieces. I prefer to make people happy.”
This will be the third time that I perform at Sadler’s Wells. It will be a challenge, because it’s a big stage in a beautiful theatre and I’m so lucky to work there. I have done this piece in the Apollo in New York and on a big stage the piece becomes more emotional and powerful.
A touching sentiment indeed. Perhaps Gomis’ desire to spread the joy is partly down to her own exhilaration at performing in this year’s festival. She is especially excited about dancing at Sadler’s Wells which she describes as “an honour.”
“This will be the third time that I perform at Sadlers Wells. It will be a challenge, because it’s a big stage in a beautiful theatre and I’m so lucky to work there. I have done this piece in the Apollo in New York and on a big stage the piece becomes more emotional and powerful.”
The dancer is also emphatic about the significance of Breakin’ Convention as a company, and reveals a depth of gratitude to the founder and artistic director Jonzi D (read interview).
“I’m so excited to have the chance to work with Breakin’ Convention, they are at the forefront of the dance world and so many people want to work with them. I’m so grateful to Jonzi D, it is because of him that we created this piece. At the beginning, Images was only a video, which he saw and said ‘Can you do it on stage?’ So from there we created this piece and took it to New York, which was my dream. I’m so so excited to come again and do the tour of the UK. I am lucky and grateful to Jonzi D and Breakin’ Convention.”
Gomis’ evocative piece will be key attraction for this year’s festival, alongside 22 other cutting edge hip hop acts. As well as riveting live dance performance, the festival will also include dance workshops led by the dance professionals and will be hosted by Jonzi D himself.
Gomis says she can’t wait for Breakin’ Convention’s 2016 festival and is categorical in her reasons for the public to attend: “It’s the best festival in Europe. We can see all the different types of dance and see companies from all over the world in the same place. I think in other countries we don’t have this energy that we have at Sadler’s Wells. Jonzi D has brought us all to this big and beautiful theatre and people should come because there is lots of crazy things that will happen there.”
Info: Breakin’ Convention 16 – International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre (see listing) takes places from 30 Apr to 1 May 2016, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R | Book tickets | Antoinette Gomis performs at Sadler’s Wells on Sunday 1 May 2016 on the main stage and she will be touring with Breakin’ Convention nationally until June 1. Visit the Breakin’ Convention website for more details