Natacha Muziramakenga presents her creation “Méandres”

Dance allows us to write the unspeakable.

With her play Méandres, Rwandan writer and artist Natacha Muziramakenga, winner of the Des Mots à la scène scheme, explores the healing powers of dance when faced with the unspeakable. A project developed in partnership with L'Espace (Rwanda) and With the support of the Institut français and the Institut français in Rwanda. 

Published on 11/12/2023

5 min

Natacha Muziramakenga
© DR

You are a director, poet, performer, actor and filmmaker all at once. Can you tell us about your background? 

My background is unusual to say the least. For me, everything always starts with writing, but I think that for a time in my life, I didn’t really own that. I started quite early, trying different things, before coming to the conclusion that everything revolved around writing and that it was maybe time for me to take ownership of it. I started with poetry, using it as a means of expression and healing from certain traumas. At the time, I also dabbled in theatre, first as an actor, while continuing to write on the side. Gradually, each influenced the other and I started bringing my own poems to the stage. That’s how I became a performer. As various opportunities have come up, I have also curated exhibitions, which allows me to combine my love of visual arts with my love of writing. But poetry remains the central element. 


The issue of healing occupies a key role in your work, particularly in your latest show Méandres [Meanders], premièred in March at the Lavoir moderne parisien. Could you tell us more about this latest project and how it came about? 

Méandres is still a work in progress, it’s a dramatised reading with two dancers and two actors. At the centre of the stage, two bodies attempt to tell a story, in parallel to what is being read. The form and content come together around the main theme of childhood trauma and the search for a kind of healing. How can you retrace your steps in order to understand when exactly there was a caesura, when exactly the dissociation occurred? Initially, the project was calledLe Cri [The Cry], because the piece tells the story of a person who delves into herself to draw out a cry that hiding away. The secret is so huge that we don’t know where to begin, how to tackle this immeasurable pain. Dance allows us to write the unspeakable. Méandres refers to the fact that there are several different paths to finding something. The two dancers also express the fact that trauma hides inside the body and that we can attempt to extract it through movement. At one point I even wondered whether this written piece could be turned into a performance where nothing is said. In fact, I still might choose to go in that direction, as it’s a work in progress. 


With Méandres, you give dance a central role as an outlet and a liberating ritual. How did you come up with and develop this project with Wesley Ruzibiza, the choreographer of the piece? 

I’ve known Wesley for a very long time, we worked together in 2009 at the Jeux de la Francophonie for a dance piece I was involved in. He also organises a dance festival, the East African Nights of Tolerance, on which I’ve worked a lot. This is the first time he’s worked on one of my projects. After spending years in the dance world, without really being a dancer myself, I’ve always used dance as a tool for healing. Faced with everything that I cannot explain or understand, I dance. With Wesley, we dissected the piece together, I came up with tableaux for each scene by imagining what it does to the emotions, to the body. I talk about the movements that it evoked for me, just the outlines, so as not to meddle too much in his work. It allows me to tell my story even though I’m not a choreographer. 

It is important to see woman holding important roles, including within government.

What about the immersive and interactive dimension of the show? 

It’s a play of shadows and mirrors on stage which, in actual fact, works more like a mise en abîme and also introduces the issue of society. Of course, there can be no childhood trauma without adults. The themes we’re addressing are pretty tough – sexual abuse, as well as the complicit silence of adults and the taboos resulting from it. The absence of denunciation doesn’t come from the fact that people agree with it, but that they wall themselves in with silence, wrongly thinking that it’ll offer protection. When something is not denounced, the victim becomes culpable. The mirror therefore forces the audience to watch themselves as they watch. The shadow play also becomes an image of the way in which each individual’s own shadow also represents what frightens them. 


The representation of women and issues of gender equality are also recurring themes in your work. The project Learning Feminism from Rwanda, in collaboration with Lisa and Sophia Stepf, comes to mind. This challenges quotas in particular, used in Rwanda as a political instrument to promote gender equality. In this respect, Rwanda currently seems ahead of many European countries. What can you tell us about this? 

We co-wrote the piece and it toured Germany and Switzerland in 2021-22. In fact, Wesley Ruzibiza was also involved in the project. It’s a show in which we’re on stage without really being on stage, which is linked to the fact that the tour started in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. As for the issue of quotas in Rwanda, I think there are mixed results. They are important for ensuring real inclusivity and for proper follow-up. The quota definitely solves the problem of representation. For me, as someone really interested in children and their perceptions, I think it sets examples for them, which helps them to understand that they are not bound by their environment. It is therefore important to see woman holding important roles, including within government. 


Have you got any other news you’d like to share with us? 

I was in Seoul in September, where I was co-curating an exhibition with eight Rwandan artists, at the same time as the Frieze contemporary art fair. I’m also working on another project that’s very close to my heart, a decolonial project that doesn’t talk about colonisation. I wanted to ask myself what would have happened if there had been no colonisation. I’m still at the research stage, but I’m planning on making it into an animated series and video game. 

L'institut français, LAB