Sedova Daria

2018

From : Moscow
To: Tunis

Transafrican trance

Dance, Music

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How did this grant contribute to the realization of your project in regard to artistic exchange, local cultural development and/or the promotion of cultural diversity?

This 2-week immersion into the Stambeli community and culture, and wider - the Tunisian artistic community, would not be possible without RCF support and I am profoundly grateful to the Fond for this chance. It was indeed a very important first step for my research on African and Sufi trance practices, a moment of discovery when I could access a very unique tradition of a mixed voodoo-Sufi practice and communicate with its rhythms in dance improvisation during a ceremony held in a sanctuary of Saida Manoubia. I have met several Stambeli practitioners (some of them in their homes that have been hosting the tradition for dozens of years) and conducted few interviews on the nature of trance in Stambeli. I was also able to participate in a public Stambeli/Gnawa/Diwan festival, organized by the Sidi Ali Lasmar group (https://www.stambalisidialilasmar.com/live) and talk to its leader Riadh Ezzawech who is aiming to promote this culture on the verge of extinction. The research felt like a very intimate process I would not be able to experience in any other way but through this travel, since the Stambeli community is quite closed one and, according to estimates, may cease to exist in ten years. I have collected information that would serve a basis for my performance preparation, in a meanwhile I will be sharing the knowledge on Stambeli trance and practice as a part of my Dynamic Meditations and Trance Practices Course in the Contemporary Dance Center in Moscow, Russia in July 2018. Moreover, we seek to continue collaborating with Belhassan Mihoub, the gombri master that I was fortunate to meet and artistically exchange with during my stay.

How does exchange, networking and international contacts contribute to the development of your artistic and cultural project?

My situation had changed quite drastically to the moment of travel, as circumstances led me to travel and conduct research independently (without my Tunisian partner and video artist). However, I was very fortunate to form strong connections and relationships and collaborate with the local actors (from the National Theatre Company), artists and musicians. Through these relationships, I was able to access the emerging performative arts scene in Tunis and became informed about the non-recognized status of actors/performers/dancers in the country. I learned that in spite of the absence of professional training and dance centers, the dance scene still finds ways to exist independently. I was able to engage with other dancers and watch informative performances. I can now clearly state that without these artistic connections all the knowledge I got about the trance practices and black heritage traditions in Tunis would have been simply unreachable for me. Thanks to my new friends and collegues, I learned about alternative methods of researching the information linked to a very different mentality which I enjoyed getting to know. It is my strong desire to be able to bring Belhassan Mihoub, the yenna and one of the most talented 'porteur' of the tradition, to Europe to introduce Stambeli within a collaborative project, for which we have applied for some festivals. Moreover, during my stay I have learned about and applied with another work of mine to the feminist art festival Chouftouhonna which takes place in September.

Can you elaborate on the learning and knowledge you have gained and shared throughout this experience?

My main research concerned the Trance Practices brought from Subsaharian Africa to the North of the continent with Slavery and which were later integrated into Sufi practices – the entire journey of learning about this tradition felt like an adventure novel. Stambeli, little of which is known even inside Tunisia, refers to a much wider phenomenon than just a music or dance tradition and embraces one of many black identities connected by this heritage. The remaining community is very small, there are approximately four communal Stambeli houses left in the country and they are quite dispersed. As part of research, I participated in a public Stambeli/Gnawa festival, organized by the Sidi Ali Lasmar group (https://www.stambalisidialilasmar.com/live), and a more authentic ceremony in a sanctuary of Saida Manoubia with Belhassan Mihoub. While the former was more of a popularizing attempt for a disappearing tradition, the later was a very deep learning and sensorial experience for me. Belhassan Mihoub was a cornerstone figure in my research and somewhat of a Guru amongst the local people. One of the last Yennas (master of the gombri – the principal instrument of Stambeli ceremony) he introduced me to the four main rhythms of Stambeli, instruments and moves, and invited me to improvise with him during the ceremony in Zaouiet Saida Manoubia. Since it is a Yenna who leads people into a trance state in Stambeli, dancing and dialoguing through movement with Belhassan and his music was the main corporeal experience and situational moment of research of the trip. The experience has heavily informed my own research methodology and I will continue to work with this methodology in my own practice.

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