Choreographer Olivier Tarpaga recalls his home continent in Declassified Memory Fragment | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Choreographer Olivier Tarpaga recalls his home continent in Declassified Memory Fragment 

“Africa is not just about violence, Ebola and AIDS.”

click to enlarge Baker & Tarpaga Dance performs Declassified Memory Fragment - PHOTO COURTESY OF REBEKAH EDIE
  • Photo courtesy of Rebekah Edie
  • Baker & Tarpaga Dance performs Declassified Memory Fragment

Choreographer Olivier Tarpaga calls his latest dance-theater work, Declassified Memory Fragment, “an open letter on African society.” Tarpaga, 37, has witnessed five coups d’etat, including one in 1987, when he was 8, in his home city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, that nearly took his life. For him, this letter is personal. 

Declassified Memory Fragment at once admonishes the Africa of violence, corruption and genocide, and celebrates the continent’s humanity and beauty, all through the lens of Tarpaga’s “fragmented memories.” The work’s title, he says, refers to his exposure of images of everyday life that certain African governments treated as classified, such as the places he visited and the people he interacted with. 

Tarpaga’s Philadelphia/Burkina Faso-based Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project will perform the world premiere of the hour-long Declassified Memory Fragment this weekend at East Liberty’s Kelly-Strayhorn Theater as part of the theater’s World Stage Series. 

Begun in 2010 with major support from the Kelly-Strayhorn and residency support from Ohio’s Denison University and Kenyon College, Declassified Memory Fragment is the company’s third appearance in Pittsburgh. The previous was in 2014, when the company performed Beautiful Struggle at KST. 

Declassified Memory Fragment is set to original music by Tarpaga, played live, and is performed by an all-male cast of African dancers using a mix of styles. Parts of the show are inspired by political situations in Kenya, Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast. These include a scene where two dancers struggle to occupy the same suit coat — a reference to dysfunctional power-sharing relationships that have cropped up after recent national elections, in which the loser is welcomed into the winner’s administration in order to quell post-election violence. But equally represented in the work are Tarpaga’s happier memories of growing up in Ouagadougou. In a video excerpt of the work on the company’s website, one such memory was recreated in a humorous scene where three dancers piled onto an imaginary motorcycle for a joyride. 

“Africa is not just about violence, Ebola and AIDS,” says Tarpaga. “It’s about music, festivals, happiness and welcoming families. I want people to not only see the complicated Africa, but the beautiful and intelligent one as well.” 



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