Prophétique (on est déjà né·es): Transgender Performers Speak Their Truth
Prophétique (on est déjà né·es), the latest work of choreographer Nadia Beugré, affords transgender and non-binary people from Côte d'Ivoire the opportunity to speak up, literally: throughout, their lives, stories and struggles take center stage. In their dressing rooms at the Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne, in Switzerland, the cast spoke about the experience of making this piece and touring around Europe with it.
“Everything we do on set is really us. It's our story. Sometimes it's not easy. It's always a struggle,” says Acauã El Bandide Shereya, a warm presence with her black dress, afro hairstyle and big moon boots. “We,” here, means the six performers in Prophétique (on est déjà né·es), the brainchild of Abidjan-born choreographer Nadia Beugré. “We” also means transgender people, most of them Ivorian, who bring their lives and struggles to the stage: Beyoncé, Canel Tra, Taylor Dear, Kevin Sery, Jhaya Caupenne, a Belgian artist from Côte d'Ivoire, and Brazilian performer Acauã El Bandide Shereya.
While homosexuality is not illegal in Côte d'Ivoire, LGBTQI+ people have neither rights nor protection – legal or otherwise. For transgender people in particular, it's impossible to change one's civil status, and discrimination is rife, sometimes laced with violence. “We're often asked if we could perform the piece in Abidjan,” says Canel Tra, who is also an LGBTQI+ rights activist. “Here [in Lausanne], when it's over, we go quietly back to the hotel. There are no fights, I don't get beaten up. In Abidjan, our safety is not guaranteed. But if one day we get the chance, we'll definitely go and play there. It's our home.”
“Nadia is always telling us that she's not creating steps that we would then dance. No, it all comes from each of us,” explains Kevin Sery, sitting on a sofa, his voice still hoarse from the previous day's performance. In Prophétique (on est déjà né·es), the performers are at the heart of the creation, with Nadia Beugré as their guide. Set against a backdrop of white plastic chairs and colorful hanging threads, the show is built around their lives: their work as hairdressers and beauticians, their spaces of freedom, partying and provocation, but also violence, as when the group, lined up in front of the audience, starts barking. “We're going to tell her our story, she's going to see the emotions in it, and she's going to express them differently,” says Jhaya Caupenne. They have a say even in the soundtrack selection. “We're used to dancing to music that inspires us. With these sounds, we can bring out whatever we want,” according to the performer known as Beyoncé. Jhaya Caupenne adds: “We tried out a lot of things, Ivorian music, Brazilian funk, voguing pieces... We performed them, each with our own style. In doing so, we noticed similarities between traditional Ivorian dances and certain traditional Brazilian dances. Sharing this strengthened the bond between us, which had been formed from the moment we were hired.” Acauã El Bandide Shereya draws confidence from that bond: “This is my family,” she says of the team. “The show is lovely because we're so beautiful. Really, we're very beautiful.”
Sitting next to her, Canel Tra, who describes herself as “the office mom,” wasn't a professional dancer before she started working on the piece. A long-time activist, she saw this project as a way of freeing herself. “For me, the stage is an audience, and it's the world. Being on stage is a channel I've found for my struggle, the struggle of trans women in Côte d'Ivoire.” She speaks softly, but with the confidence of people who are used to defending their cause: “There's so much hypocrisy in this world…” As Taylor Dear puts it: “On stage, everyone conveys their own message, tells their own life story. For example, mine is aimed at parents who don't want to let their children take charge of their sexuality, who spend their time bullying them. That's what I've been through.” She continues in a very gentle tone: “Really, let the children live. They have the right to all the beautiful things that other children have.” For Beyoncé, being on stage is also a way of asserting their existence even as society questions it: “We're saying that we want to live, that we're here, that we're also people to be loved, not hated.”
Acauã El Bandide Shereya tries to convey different emotions depending on the audience. “For some, I'd like to be angry. With some people, you look at them and you know it's going to be difficult. When that happens, I say to myself: ‘Let's go! The person who bought their ticket and looks like that [she pretends to be bored], they're going to walk out of here with a bleeding heart!’ In the same space though there are queer, black, racialized people, for whom I do it with love. In the same space, I have rage and love.” Canel Tra is convinced of one thing: “Those who stand up to leave, it's because they refuse to accept what we say, because they see it's the truth.” A truth – of transgender people – that is still rarely addressed in dance performances.
Hélène Paquet is a freelance journalist. She works mainly on gender and equality issues, online cultures and dance, which she has been passionate about and practiced since childhood. She is also a doctoral student in sociology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where she has been studying the media's treatment of LGBTQI+ issues since the late 1990s.
Prophétique (on est déjà né·es)
Choreography by Nadia Beugré
From 30.11 > 3.12 at Centre Pompidou dans le cadre du festival d’Automne à Paris
6.04 at Théâtre Dijon-Bourgogne