Meet age-defying dancers Germaine Acogny & Valda Setterfield

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 - 16:59

In many art forms, old age confers kudos – think of artists like Louise Bourgeois and Pablo Picasso; writers like Alice Munro and Toni Morrison; or classical music legends such as Maurizio Pollini and the late Claudio Abbado.

That is not traditionally the case, however, with dance. Classical and contemporary ballet is performed by young bodies; decades of rigorous training take their toll on feet, ankles, knees and hips so that only a lucky few can continue at a world-class standard beyond their 30s.

But as part of our (B)old festival, we present two pieces that defy this convention and make a virtue of the status of veteran.

Senegalese dancer Germaine Acogny was born in Benin in 1944 and has set up dance companies in both Senegal and France. She brings her solo piece Mon Elue Noir (‘My Black Chosen One’) to Southbank Centre on Friday 18 May.

Mon Elue Noir (My Black Chosen One) Sacre #2

The work is set to Stravinsky’s ballet music The Rite of Spring and choreographed by Olivier Dubois, who says of the 74-year-old dancer: ‘She’s not from the past. She’s the future, an artist with a political voice I want people to hear.’

And it’s an attitude that Acogny supports. ‘I want it to last, I don’t want it to stop,’ she told an interviewer in 2016. ‘I think we’re still giving the audience something.’

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You can also see Valda Setterfield, the 83-year-old from Kent, who is famous for her work as a soloist with the hugely admired Merce Cunningham Dance Company, as well as performing works by her choreographer husband David Gordon.

I think the most important thing is to be so fully present in the moment that the audience immediately responds – they understand that, they know it.
Valda Setterfield

At (B)old, she appears in the title role of a dance version of King Lear, a stripped back adaptation of Shakespeare’s play where Lear’s three daughters are portrayed by male dancers. Choreographed by Irishman John Scott, it is a tribute to his late father and, Setterfield says, ‘...about the curious transition in the lives of parents and their children when the question arises: Who’s responsible now?’

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Understandably, as a performer working in her 80s, Setterfield has been asked about what it’s like to still be dancing after all these years. As she told one interviewer: ‘I don’t worry about the aging thing. I did once say to Merce “I never had speed, so I don’t worry about losing it.” ... Whatever I did, I did fully and honestly. I think that’s the most that one can do. Live the fullest, have the best time you can, while you’ve got it.’


These two performances take part during our (B)old festival, where we celebrate great artists who stand the test of time, as well as looking at issues that face them.

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