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Fragments of Unrest: An Interview with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 4th, 2017

Co-founder of the Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, Olivier Tarpaga is both a choreographer and a musician who brings together disparate nations and identities to create powerful and meaningful performances. Working with his partner, Esther Baker-Tarpaga, the duo have generated a project-centered, transcontinental company that is based in both Philadelphia and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Their work has been noted for its intensity that “proved unforgettable” (Los Angeles Times) and for their projects that “metaphorically and abstractly decenter whiteness” (The Dance Journal). In their newest work, Declassified Memory Fragment, Olivier “declassifies,” or uncovers, experiences that many in Burkina Faso have lived through that are hidden from the world. Through the melding of dance and music, Olivier Tarpaga has created an exhibition of the memories of men in political military unrest from the many uprisings within Burkina Faso. We got the chance to talk with him about his process in creating the work and the contexts that informed it.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title Declassified Memory Fragment came into being?

Olivier Tarpaga: It came to me during a research trip in Kenya in 2010. I grew up in Burkina Faso and have witnessed military coups in 1980, 1982, 1983, a very bloody one in 1987, and the revolution in 2014. This piece is addressing the issues of military coups. The irony is that in 2015 a coup in Burkina Faso happened the day of the avant-premier of this very piece at Denison University in Ohio. It felt like history revisited. Our country has been independent from France since 1960 and there are many fragments of my childhood memories during this time of political instability. I wanted to bring this issue into the open air and expose it with an artistic approach.

FringeArts: How did the choreography come about?

Olivier Tarpaga: I began the piece in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. With my cast we first began with speaking about the politics of ethnic conflict during the Kenya election and Ivory Coast war. We spoke about our memories and knowledge of the war zones. Several cast members grew up in conflict zones and their families were directly affected. I gave specific tasks, images, gestures and directions to research movement based on memories and experiences of different conflicts in the region. I then selected, transformed and composed phrases based on themes and emotions. We worked with live musicians creating the work and making solos, duets, and group work.

FringeArts: What made it important for you that it was an all-male dance troupe?

Olivier Tarpaga: This is purposeful because all these conflicts and wars we are focusing on were all created and directed by men. Men fighting for power. I am pro-feminist and thus I am specifically making a critique of men creating violence to grab more power. This is our first project with only men. Our company is not all-male, in fact it is founded by Esther Baker-Tarpaga and I. We frequently have mixed gender casts.

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