Senegalese and French, Germaine Acogny participated from 1962 to 1965 at the formation at the Simon Siegel’s school (the director was Marguerite Lamotte) in Paris and received a diploma of physical education and harmonious gymnastics.
Then she founded her first dance studio in Dakar in 1968. Thanks to the influence of the dances she inherited from her grandmother, a Yoruba priest, and to her studies of traditional African dances and Occidental dances (classic, modern) in Paris and New York, Acogny created her own technique of Modern African Dance and is considered as the “mother of contemporary African dance.”
Between 1977 and 1982, she was artistic director of Mudra Afrique (Dakar), a contemporary dance school created by Maurice Béjart and the Senegalese president and poet Leopold Sedar Senghor. In 1980, she wrote her first book, titled African Dance, which was edited in three languages.
Once Mudra Afrique closed, she moved to Brussels to work with Maurice Béjart’s company and organized international African dance workshops, which had great success among the European students. This same experience was repeated in Fanghoumé, a small village in Casamance, in the south of Senegal. People from Europe and all over the world traveled there.
Germaine Acogny dances, choreographs and teaches on all continents and became a real emissary of African dance and culture. Her work and personality are highly respected in Africa and worldwide.
Together with her husband, Helmut Vogt, she set up the Studio-Ecole-Ballet-Théâtre du 3e Monde in Toulouse, France, in 1985.
After having been away from the stage for several years, Germaine Acogny made her comeback as a dancer and choreographer in 1987. She worked with Peter Gabriel for a video clip and created her solo “Sahel.” Other choreographies followed.
Her solo “YE’OU,” created in 1988, toured on all continents and won the London Contemporary Dance and Performance Award in 1991.
In 1995, she decided to return to Senegal with the aim of creating an International Centre for Traditional and Contemporary African Dances, a meeting point for dancers from Africa and all over the world, a place of professional education for dancers from the whole of Africa with the aim to guide them toward a contemporary African dance. The construction of the center, also called «L’EcoledesSables», was achieved in June 2004. Every year since 1998, three-month professional workshops for African dancers and choreographers are organized. About 40 dancers from all over Africa meet, exchange and work together each time.
In 1997, Germaine Acogny became artistic director of the «Dance section of Afrique en Creations» in Paris, a position she held until September 2000. During that time, she was responsible for the Contemporary African Dance Competition, an important platform for young African choreographers.
In 2005 she was invited as a regent at UCLA. Her solo “Tchouraï,” created in 2001 choreographed by Sophiatou Kossoko, successfully toured until 2008. She has presented it in France (Theatre de la Ville, Paris), Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Italy, the U.S. (New York, Chicago), Brazil and China (at the first Contemporary Dance Festival in Shanghai).
In 2003–2004, she created the piece “Fagaala,” based on the genocide in Rwanda, for her company JANT-BI. It is co-choreographed with Kota Yamazaki from Japan for seven African dancers, a fusion between Butoh and traditional and contemporary African dances. It had already three very successful tours in the US and was performed in Europe, Australia (Melbourne Festival, Sydney Opera House) and Japan. In 2007, she and Kota Yamazaki won a BESSIE Award for “Fagaala.”
Later that year, the great challenge was the choreographic part of the OPERA du SAHEL, an important African creation initiated and produced by the Prince Claus Fund in Holland. It premiered in Bamako in February 2007, followed by performances in Amsterdam and Paris and toured Africa for the first time in 2009.
In 2008, another choreographic work was organized as a collaboration between Jant-Bi company (seven male dancers) and Urban Bush Women company (seven African American female dancers) from New York. That new creation, “Les écailles de la mémoire – Scales of memory,” was created by her and Jawole Zollar, the artistic director of Urban Bush Women. It toured the U.S. and Europe several times and was a great success.
Her solo «Songook Yaakaar» had its premiere at the Biennale de la danse in Lyon in September 2010. In 2014, the French choreographer Olivier Dubois created a solo piece for Acogny, “« Mon élue noire – Sacre no.2 »,” based on the original music of Le Sacre du Printemps. In 2015, a new solo creation, « Somewhere at the beginning » was a collaboration with theater director Mikael Serre and a creation that combined dance, theater and video. The premiere took place at the Grand Theatre de la Ville du Luxembourg in June 2015.
She continues to collaborate with international schools and dance Centers and teaches regular master classes. In January 2015 she turned the artistic direction of the Ecole des Sables over to her son Patrick Acogny.
Honors & Distinctions
Acogny was decorated as Pioneer Woman by the Senegalese Ministry of the Family and the National Solidarity (1999).
Acogny received the «Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite», the «Officier des Arts et des Lettres» and the «Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur» distinctions from the French Republic. She was also honored by the Senegalese Rebublic with the «Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Lion» and «Officier des Arts et des Lettres» distinctions.
Acogny was recognized with a grant by the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art, New York (2008).
African magazine Jeune Afrique selected Acogny as part of the 100 personalities who “make” Africa (2008).
The magazine of Africa selected Acogny as one of 50 intellectuals of Africa (2016).
Acogny received a New York BESSIE Award for outstanding performance for the solo “Mon élue noire-sacre # 2” and an award for lifetime achievement in the field of choreography, movement and dance from the Cairo International Festival for Experimental and Contemporary Theatre (2018).
She won the International Elsa Wolliaston Prize at the Festival Danses et Continents Noirs (2018).
Acogny received the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Excellence Award in the category of Arts and Letters (2019).
Acogny received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale (2021).
Acogny received the Grand Prix of the SACD France (2022).