“Back to Africa”: Ethnocentrism and Colonialism in Montreal’s Festival International de Nouvelle Danse

Melissa Templeton

Abstract


Montreal’s modern dance community owes much to Festival International de Nouvelle Danse (FIND) for bringing global attention to its artists. From 1982 to 2003, the biennial festival attracted dance enthusiasts from around the world, giving exposure to the city’s thriving modern dance scene. While FIND promoted modern dance, whether homegrown or from abroad, accusations of the festival’s Eurocentrism swirled. Ironically, the height of this Eurocentrism is most visible in the 1999 iteration of the festival: Afrique: Aller/Retour. While many choreographers from Africa came to present during the festival, it was European choreographers (like Susanne Linke and Mathilde Monnier) working with African dancers who were featured most prominently in the festival’s promotional material. This exchange between Europe and Africa mimicked colonialist exchanges that, as Brenda Dixon Gottschild would argue, unfairly assume “African visual arts, music, and dance are raw materials that are improved upon and elevated when they are appropriated and finessed by European artists” (1996, 41). Afrique: Aller/Retour often depicted the African continent as a space that is not as advanced as Europe but rather backward or somehow back in time. 

Contextualizing this festival within the larger frame of Quebec politics, I argue that the colonialist/Eurocentric framing of FIND speaks to a developing French ethnic nationalism. Quebec’s separatist movement has been understandably fraught with debates about ethnicity and belonging; many Québec nationalists have privileged Quebec’s connections to France as a way to strengthen their claims for sovereignty. FIND’s Afrique: Aller/Retour highlights this pattern in its look at Africa through a Europeanist perspective. However, as I explore in this article, many dancers, critics, and audience members pushed back against this Eurocentrism. Studying Afrique: Aller/Retour identifies how Quebec potentially adopts a colonialist gaze when looking at nonwhite subjects, yet the festival’s public response illustrates a strong contingent challenging such colonialist framings.


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