Choreographer and performer, philosopher and writer, Zab Maboungou is an artist whose works of great introspective power and committed body language, strike our spirits: a vibrant sound space and articulated bodies interpenetrating in the sobriety and brilliance of an art of dance of “something from nothing at a high level” (Deborah Meyers – Vancouver).
Of French and Congolese origin, Zab Maboungou is the artistic director of Zab Maboungou/Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, a contemporary dance company founded in 1987, based in Montreal, Quebec, whose artistic vocation encompasses creation, research and teaching.
Zab Maboungou learned her craft from her earliest childhood through contact with traditional dance and music groups, in Congo-Brazzaville, in the heady days of post-independence cultural effervescence. Since then, she has never stopped broadening her knowledge of the musical forms and dances of Africa, highly sophisticated in her view. As a performer, she has integrated various traditional and “trad-modern” formations and ballets (from Central, West and East Africa). She has learned from and worked with masters of African dance, in a period of momentous change, such as Lucky Zébila (Congo/France) and Babatunde Olatundji (Nigeria/USA) while simultaneously taking part in a contemporary creative process, aiming to confront movement in its intrinsic capacity to express what she calls “our situation in the world”.
She is also continuing her studies in philosophy, a discipline that she teaches at a college in Laval, Quebec. Eventually this will equip her to provide an unprecedented theoretical dimension to her reflection on dance, arts and culture.
The author of several articles on dance and of the book “Heya Danse! Historique, poétique et didactique de la danse africaine” (2005), her reputation as a public speaker and “public intellectual” make her very sought-after wherever there is a meeting between “arts, knowledge and people”, a watchword fitting the company’s purpose – recognized as a champion of diversity (REPAF 2011) – and whose artistic practice and cultural action reveal a global understanding of the art of dance on and off stage. This choreographer and thinker draws upon this understanding for her work with many cultural institutions, (juries, committees, councils, etc.) and universities here and elsewhere. These efforts inspired the Harvard University African Affairs Committee where Zab Maboungou was keynote speaker, during the conference African Dance Diaspora: A symposium on Embodied knowledge.
“[Zab Maboungou] discusses, comments and reacts, she searches, reflects, invites spectators to a thought process ‘embodied’ on stage.”Aline Apostolska, La Presse, 2003
A unique itinerary reflecting the aesthetic of “a diamond that is anything but in the rough” (Anna Kisselgof, New York Times), with great poetic power. More than twenty solos and group pieces, in music and dance (among these, from the early works: Réverdanse, very notable for its musicality in 1995, Incantation, an emblematic work in 1997, to the most recent ones Gestes Dé/libérés en 2009 et Montréal by Night en 2010) show us an acute musical and rhythmic art as well as body language that is rooted, vigorous and stripped-down, taking clear, multiple pathways, presented on the greatest stages of the world, and some of the smallest (in Canada, United States, Korea, Italy, Germany, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mexico, etc).
Her dance technique has become a model of its kind. Many disciplines are finding a source of inspiration in this technique. Other than dance, these include song, music, theatre, visual arts and circus. Drawing on the rhythmic foundations of African dances and musical forms, this technique, called LOKETO, makes it possible to identify the pathways of breath and how it ensures their transmutation in principles of movement to develop presence in space, flexibility, physical and rhythmic endurance.
Zab Maboungou is recognized as a dance pioneer in Canada. She has received such a tribute twice, in 1993 and in 2011 from Dance Immersion, in Toronto, as part of a prestigious and unique event in the world, the International Association of Blacks in Dance Annual Conference.
She has also made a contribution to the development of the art of dance in Africa, where, chosen as a guest artist at Masa (Marché des arts vivants de la scène) by the Minister of Culture of Ivory Coast (1995-2002). She co-directed and facilitated the first large-scale Pan-African French-language choreographic workshop (1997), while the Ministry of culture of Cameroon paid her tribute twice for her “talent, creativity and all the efforts she has made for the outreach of theatrical art” (1997) as well as her huge contribution to the development of the art of dance” (2010).
More recently, in 2010, she was honoured during the 5th Kriye Bode symposium devoted to the art of Haitian dance and drum and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from Manhattan in New York and in 2011 by Collège Montmorency.
Already a laureate of Black History Month, she earned the Charles Biddle Award 2013, that highlights the exceptional contribution of an individual who immigrated to Quebec and whose personal or professional engagement is contributing to Quebec’s cultural and artistic development on the national or international scene. In January 2014, Zab Maboungou will receive the prestigious Martin Luther King Junior Achievement Award bestowed by the Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal in recognition of her body of work, which attests to her brilliant choreographic art.
In 2015, Zab Maboungou/ Nyata Nyata Dance Company is the dance laureate of the 30th Grand Prix of the Montreal Art Council for the outstanding performance of the work, Mozongi, as part of the 25th anniversary at the SAT in 2014 and brilliantly performed by experienced interpreters.
In the same year, she’ll also be honored by Cultures croisées, and will become a member of the UNESCO’s International Dance Committee.
Finally, to close this year, Nyata Nyata is the laureate of the first Montreal Art Council’s Cultural Diversity Award in Dance.
“Zab Maboungou knows how to occupy a stage space, not only physically but also mentally, and even spiritually”. (Lili Marin, Kaos magazine, Montréal, 2001).
The Company is celebrating its 30 years in existence, and along with it, Zab Maboungou is renewing her commitment, which have made her a leading exponent in terms of art, culture and all the physical, intellectual and aesthetic development that have made her mark.