WESLEY Ruzibiza is one of Rwanda’s leading dancers and choreographer. The 36-year-old began studying contemporary dance in 2000 at University of Rwanda (UR), where he was pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Financial Management. He also trained in African contemporary dance techniques at the University Centre for Arts & Drama. He also holds a degree in Arts in Dance, particularly traditional and contemporary African style, from Ecole de Sables.
Now the Director of Amizero Company, he has organised workshops on contemporary dance at UR’s University Centre for Arts & Drama.
Wesley’s choreographic pieces have been showcased at cultural events, such as the opening of the Pan African Festival of Dance (FESPAD), Rwanda’s Heroes’ Day, Genocide Commemoration Day and the Under 20 African Soccer Cup.
The dancer of all seasons recently performed at Cairo Metropolitan Theatre in Egypt, a piece called “Radio Play” that was written by Elizabeth Senja Spackman and directed by Ruzibiza. He is also working on Ibeiji that will premiere in Noisel, France, Initium, a duet with French choreographer Isabelle Chaveau in Bordeaux, Cello Man and African to African with a Tanzanian Choreographer.
He spoke to The New Times about his career, the challenges facing contemporary art and the way forward.
Why contemporary dance?
I found out that I wanted to live for this ever since I stepped in a contemporary dance class way back at the university. Despite pursuing a totally different course then, I also attended dance classes. Day by day, I was convinced this is where I belonged and nowhere else.
What is the motivation behind your pieces?
The story behind my pieces is what motivates me. I am more of an engaged artist than just doing what I do for money. That is why I advocate for artists like me to act as mirrors and alarms of society since not everyone has a platform to air out their views and opinions.
When you look at most of my plays, they talk of what is going on in our society, for example, one about the Genocide, how people move from one city to the other, the lack of jobs that make the youth hustle looking for money, homosexuality and many other subjects that seem to be hidden in us.
Do you get emotionally caught up in action?
There are two pieces I performed and I was affected emotionally big time.
“Black tears”, which I performed with a Belgian female dancer in the USA, South Korea and France in 2014, was about racism. Unfortunately that was the period I had lost a very close friend to the same issue so throughout the performance, I kept feeling the pain my friend went through.
Another piece was about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. We performed it in Europe but I did not feel so emotionally unstable. But when it came to performing it here in Rwanda, it was difficult for me to go on during the performance because of the energy in the room. This was a contemporary dance piece with portrayal of violence and it brought back bad memories for me and the audience.
What have you learnt during your career?
Usually when I finish performing, I have questionnaires for the audience to give feedback. Through this technique, I get to know whether one has learnt something from my piece, or something more needs to be done and feel I have achieved something in educating the public when the feedback is positive.
I have also learnt to listen more and be open minded to accept things the way they are rather than want things to be how I would love them to be.
What do you think is the future of contemporary dance in Rwanda?
I see a bright future for contemporary dance in Rwanda. We have a good background of traditional dance which is well rooted and we cannot change that. Today, contemporary dance is the talk of the day; youngsters are embracing it and are actually interested in pursuing it as a career. There is a market for contemporary dance though we have to push it hard and invest in it.
What is missing?
We need an audience here at home. Many people still think we are changing the traditional dance to a different thing which is not true. We also need funding from the government, schools and training centres for contemporary dance and above all, space or theatre where we can perform. This has been done in many countries so maybe with this; we will earn more respect from people.