I give. You give. We create.
By Adji Cissoko
Thursday, June 30, 2022
I consider myself pretty new to the role of choreographer, yet the more I think about it, I’ve done it for most of my life! From when I was little, dressing up, I performed dances and songs for my parents at home, played with friends, made choreographies for different music, and invented characters. When I joined Lines 8 years ago, I didn’t realize all the incredible things that came with the job offer. Whenever our director builds new ballets, which we do about twice a year, he does so with the dancers' help. Our director invites all 12 dancers to personalize the movement he shows us and to build our material. Once we choreograph personal phrases, he may ask us to teach them to the whole group or make them into a solo! I’ve been part of the choreographic process all these years without being fully aware of it and without feeling pressured to provide a perfect end product. Now that I’ve started choreographing outside of my safety net, Lines Ballet, I want to hold on to that feeling of exploring rather than focusing on just providing. I also very much like the idea of true collaboration. I value and need all my collaborators' input and creativity for my thoughts to take shape and grow. When I create, I often don’t have a clear vision of the outcome. I try to be in the moment. I try to focus on a specific idea or to feed off the artists I’m working with, so there’s a lot of listening going on…
Listening plays a big part in my daily life as an artist, and it’s one of the essential qualities in life. Listening to the body has to be a true tuning in and willing release of mind power. Not entirely, but just enough so there can be a collaboration of both!
I give, you give, we create.
Funny enough, I grew up in a family of great artistry without being fully aware. My father used to play the kora daily. Coming to Germany from Senegal, playing the West African string instrument was like home for him—a necessity to live. That’s exactly how I feel about my daily dance and movement practice. Hearing him play and sing felt like the most normal thing, so I took it for granted until I moved away and realized how much I missed it. I realized how much of my father’s culture and history flows through my veins. Being a Cissoko means being a griot and translates to storyteller in English. My ancestors used to play for the kings, telling and passing on important stories, history, and culture. During the pandemic, I finally started taking kora lessons. Then, I realized I had grown into the role of a griot way before learning how to play, through my art as a dancer. I communicate daily through body language. I tell my stories through movement, which I’ve been doing professionally for 12 years.
For a long time, I didn’t value my roots, and I didn’t have an interest in asking questions. Now I’m hungry to dive deeper into a world I’ve always been part of. So many missed opportunities of collaboration with my dad are made up for by collaborating with my cousin Youba Cissoko. He was born and grew up in Senegal and recently moved to the US.
I remember the last time I visited my home in Senegal a few years ago. He was playing in the living room, smiling like he always does as soon as he touches the kora. He started singing and family members gathered around him, joining in. Kids began to dance and neighbors came over to join the dancing and singing. There was so much joy. The next thing I knew, I got up from the corner I was sitting at and closed my eyes, moving to the melodies he played. They were new and yet so familiar! It was like my inner self knew and understood what the instrument was saying. I’ve never felt more connected. It was one of the most healing and joyful experiences!
For this collaboration, I imagine using kora music and singing, but also focusing on spoken word as in the typical West African griot tradition, commonly used when griots told their stories. In that instance, the kora would be more of an accompanist, rather than in the foreground.
I’m currently in Europe on tour with Lines Ballet. When we perform, it’s less of a feeling of performing but more of a “going inwards and sharing.” There’s a lot of listening going on, not only to my colleagues to move as one, but also to myself so that I can be genuinely in the moment. I make choices based on how I hear the music that day, and I want to express myself and what my message is that day. That kind of artmaking is super inspiring and helpful going into my Toulmin fellowship collaboration!
It’s important to me to create something meaningful, truthful, and inspiring. In the process, I hope to grow as a human being!
ABOUT ADJI CISSOKO
ADJI CISSOKO was born and grew up in Munich, Germany, where she trained at the Ballet Academy Munich and graduated with a diploma in dance. Cissoko attended the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City on full scholarship before joining the National Ballet of Canada in 2010. In 2012, she was awarded the Patron Award of Merit by the Patrons’ Council Committee of The National Ballet of Canada. Cissoko joined LINES Ballet in 2014. Since then, she’s originated many central roles and guested for galas worldwide. Cissoko has given multiple masterclasses and taught classes worldwide as part of the company’s outreach program. In 2020, she became certified in health/life coaching and ABT’s National Training Curriculum.