La Création du monde

24, 25/05 - 20:00
26/05 - 18:00
1h 20min

The Ballets Suédois performed the premiere of La Création du monde in Paris in 1923. Combining the talents of Fernand Léger, Blaise Cendrars, Darius Milhaud and Jean Börlin, this “negro-cubist fantasy” conveys the influence of Harlem jazz and, a few years after the end of the war, draws on the energy of “primitive” arts to herald in a new world: a hint of escape in the midst of the Roaring Twenties… Faustin Linyekula has decided to restage this ballet which turns blindly its back on the brutal colonial reality of the era with its idyllic image of Africa. The Congolese choreographer confronts an eminently western language and the alienating rigidity of the “corps de ballet”. Moving between present and the past, this “re-creation of the world” provides a number of viewpoints on a “collective” history: how do/did Africa and Europe observe one other? And can the past really be shared? A very special encounter!

Artistic direction
Faustin Linyekula

Fabrizio Cassol

Jean-Christophe Lanquetin

Lamine Badian Kouyaté

Virginie Galas

In dialogue with
the Ballets Suédois

Blaise Cendrars

Darius Milhaud

Curtain, set & costumes
Fernand Léger

Jean Börlin

Millicent Hodson, Kenneth Archer

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS

CCN Ballet de Lorraine (Nancy)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre de la Ville (Paris)

Supported by
L’Ambassade de France en Belgique, KVS (Brussels)

In collaboration with
Fondation Fluxum, Théâtre Gérard Philippe (Frouard)

The mission of the Fondation Fluxumis to encourage, conceive, conceptualize and promote artistic and cultural projects in Geneva, in Switzerland and abroad. In 2000 the Fondation Fluxum produced the reconstruction of La Création du monde, the ballet from Fernand Léger, in collaboration with the Musée d'art et d'histoire de Genève and the Grand Théâtre.

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Statement of intent

"The wildest and most dissonant jazz - the kind that must be heard among backward peoples - was violently unleashed. Reverting to the tom-tom, to the xylophone, to the screeching of brass and to noise is not progress. We are surprised to see it described as avant-garde."

This is what appeared in the press the day after the premiere of La Création du monde (Creation of the World) - a "negro-cubist fantasy" - at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées on 25 October 1923. Yet the names are renowned: Darius Milhaud composed the music for 17 instruments, Blaise Cendrars wrote the libretto, Fernand Léger designed the set and Jean Börlin provided the choreography for the Ballets Suédois.

Just under fifteen minutes to devise a new destiny for humanity - only a few years after the end of the First World War - a rebirth, a return to our sources, a little more to the south, to the heart of a virgin and primitive continent, far away from the Chemin des Dames and Verdun...

Cendrars' argument? "An astral blagologie of races - roots, larva and lemurs" according to one critic of the day...

Out of the "chaos" before creation, out of a heap of mingled bodies comes the plant world, then the animal one, a monkey, an elephant... to the incantations of three giant deities. Then man and woman are born who will mate in a dance of desire before the calm of spring...

You can hear jazz in that world - on several occasions Milhaud evokes a visit to Harlem - and the missionaries' wonderful tales which Cendrars turned into a book: Petits Contes Nègres pour les Enfants des Blancs (Little Black Stories for Little White Children). People read "African art", the statues and masks which will have such a strong influence on some of the greatest European artists at the start of the century....

It cannot be said that this creation left audiences or critics indifferent. Recreating this Création du monde (it has only been staged again once in 2001 for La Création du monde, Fernand Léger et l'art africain des collections Barbier Mueller - an exhibition in Geneva's Musée d'Art et d'Histoire - by choreographer Millicent Hodson and designed by scenic consultant and art historian Kenneth Archer) for a smaller group of musicians (there is a later version for piano and string quartet).

But re-creating it in 1923, in this very real Africa which sent some of her sons to the front at the Chemin des Dames... Dancing and crazy whirling were far away...

How did people behave in the Congo in 1923? And elsewhere on the continent? And how was it that the greatest intellectuals were so unaware of what was happening due to their own country's suppression.

Steering this beautiful story of creation towards other stories of the present day now past, 1923, putting black bodies, negroes, alongside Cendrars' graceful creatures, linking the fantastical to the everyday in a few trajectories, and seeing what these worlds and these origins can tell us.

véritable ballet nègre
Written by Faustin Linyekula in 2006 as a commission for the Montparnasse noir: 1906-1966 exhibition catalogue, Musée du Montparnasse, Paris.

Kisangani, 18 April 2006
To Blaise Cendrars and Jean Börlin

To start with I have to admit that I am a bit ashamed of this letter, of the desire to come which its apparent militancy barely conceals. But given that I said yes to the commission and to the accompanying cheque for three hundred euros, I have to finish it and tell you immediately: I dream of choreographing a piece for the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris.

You are right to make a face; it's a very funny idea after all. For someone who doesn't know how to dance anything other than my name and the pile of ruins I received as a legacy (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zaire, Mobutu, Lumumba, Leopold II, as well as dying negroes). Me: someone who has not even learnt to dance (it's no secret, Africans have rhythm in their blood!), so what can I do as a choreographer in this temple to Rigour, to Nobility blablabla...?

To arms, children of the fatherland! Enough of this blemish, vanity of vanities, pretension of pretensions! Dancing gibberish like you already speak gibberish. Choreographing gibberish.

Babble the dance with the spelling of a text message...You don't jump attitude, she pirouetting arabesque, me crawling entrechats, us ballet wildly... Then cooking it all up into a story about origins to lull babies and reassure people.

Because we've known since the beginning of time that Africa is the infancy of the World. So I will be on the move up hills and in the suburbs, African dancer, my feet full of exotic stories to sell, little negro dances for little white children, because I need the money and I feel good in the place the Republic has so generously given me.


A digression before I go any further: I've lost my profession since the birth of my son, a mixed race Franco-Congolese child. Before it was enough to choose my side and shout out my arrogance to the world. But as for him, tell me just which dances to dance to him which aren't gaping wounds torn apart over seas and walls?

Hey, son, this is your father: African dancer. Heavy legs which can't jump anymore. Ears buzzing with muddled poems. 1921. Anthologie Nègre. 1921. Batouala, Véritable Roman Nègre. 1923. La création du monde. 2006. The Dialogues Series: ii. Véritable Ballet Nègre.

Now that I've used up my stock of exotic stories from the depths, what is left to me other than to offer you a few scraps from History... Once upon a time, there was an all-powerful maître de ballet, once upon a time there was a docile ballerina...

That's how I came to understand the fundamental similarity between negroes and ballerinas: both have a master... Let's end the digression with a new politically correct term: "docile like a ballerina"; that is to say "I don't like Arabs, at least Africans don't plant bombs, they just party!"

Bravo all artists! I now understand that you have created a negro ballet without negroes, they were all already there, present in the same condition as the dancer. All the dancers are negroes, all writers of the shadows! I therefore demand an invitation to the Ballets Russes, Ballets Suédois and Ballets de l'Opéra de Paris, it's time that finally I meet all these negroes who have filled the stages and wings down the ages.

Fellow dancers, my brothers, my fellow creatures, this evening, for our first real negro ballet, our only mask will be our infirmity:
1. The first dancers will have a few limbs missing
2. The stars made up as negroes
3. The corps de ballet on its head, pointes and genitals in the wind.

And we will put on a show for hours without a break. And since time is the negro's only treasure - the watch belongs to the masters - we will see that it lasts to the bitter end; for the man who suffers is not a dancing elephant... (Forgive me, Césaire, if the quotation is not accurate).

Tell me Cendrars, how do you preserve the integrity of the body when you are just violence and stumps? And you, Senghor, what would have happened if the African national ballets had challenged the national body rather than celebrated it?

All of it would have made a negro ballet, I think, a ballet of cruelty, of mutilations, of dishonest compromise, a ballet of shame... And hurray for the losers! A rattling of tambourines with holes in them for the losers!


As for me who sang with my fist in the air (forgive me again, Césaire), what sudden uneasiness in the theatre this evening, no negro in the audience! They are there though, all you have to do is come out of the theatre and see them wandering in groups around Paris.

But they won't come. So I see the colour of my skin (white-negro-and-coconut!), I'm uneasy but I'm not leaving, I'm continuing to gesticulate my hungry militancy ... It's that I'm an African dancer, I need money to look after my son, my clan... So I sell exotic stories, little negro tales to get little white children to sleep... While waiting for other dreams of rebellion, while waiting for the right breath to talk about the end, the hunger, an audience to be found...

Faustin Linyekula

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Dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula lives and works in Kisangani in the DR Congo. After studying literature and drama in Kisangani, he moved to Nairobi in 1993 and in 1997 with Opiyo Okach and Afrah Tenambergen set up the Gàara company, Kenya's first contemporary dance company. Their first creation, Cleansing, won a prize at the African Choreographic Encounters held in Luanda in 1998. In 2001 he felt a need to return to Zaire which by then had become the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country torn apart by several years of bloody conflict, and a trip for a workshop scheduled to last a few weeks became a life choice. Faustin set up the Studios Kabako, an organisation for dance and visual theatre, "a place where people work, where you are always looking and sometimes you find, a place where you doubt but where some evenings certainty imposes itself". Faustin Linyekula has created ten pieces with his company. In 2009, he created more more more... future, a rock-opera-ndombolo which has toured Europe as well as North America and Africa. In 2009 he gave a rare and wonderful performance himself in the duet Sans-titre with Raimund Hoghe. That year, he also proposed a production of Jean Racine's Bérénice for the Comédie Française and Pour en finir avec Bérénice was performed with six Congolese actors at the Festival d'Avignon in July 2010 and at the Théâtre National de Chaillot and the KVS theatre in Brussels in 2011. In 2007 he won the principal award of the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. He is associate artist of the KVS theatre in Brussels and a member of the Akademie der Künste in Cologne.

The Centre Chorégraphique National - Ballet de Lorraine in Nancy had its origins in the creation of the Ballet Théâtre Contemporain (BTC) in 1968 based in the Maison de la Culture in Amiens. In a location where the historic heart of Nancy and its new districts of Meurthe and the canal met, the Centre Chorégraphique National - Ballet de Lorraine became a place of creation and research specific to dance, open to artistic offerings from France and abroad. Following a period in the theatre in Angers, the BTC - the first decentralised permanent company dedicated to creation - moved to Nancy once and for all. After the departure of its founding director, Jean-Albert Cartier, the Ballet has had various names and a succession of directors, including Patrick Dupond, Pierre Lacotte, Françoise Adret and Didier Deschamps. André Larquié, president of the Centre Chorégraphique National, played a major role when the BTC moved to Nancy in 1978 where it is still based today. In 1999 the organisation changed its name to the Centre Chorégraphique National. Back to top