Magazine article Dance Magazine

A Dance of Hope in Rwanda

Magazine article Dance Magazine

A Dance of Hope in Rwanda

Article excerpt

JULES MUSASIZI is not a typical ballet director, and his troupe, the Ballet National du Rwanda, is not a typical company. Ten years ago, the central African nation of Rwanda was the site of one of the bloodiest episodes of ethnic cleansing since World War II. A campaign led by the ethnic Hutu population against the majority Tutsi group resulted in the deaths of approximately one million people in several months' time. Musasizi was a witness to and survivor of the carnage. "I lost many members of my family," he observes somberly. "I used to hate myself for surviving. After the genocide I was very depressed, but for me music and the arts were therapy."

A year ago, Musasizi took over the Ballet National du Rwanda after working for the National Commission of Reconciliation. There, he used music, dance, and art as tools for bringing together the survivors and perpetrators of the genocide, both Hum and Tutsi. Now he oversees a dance group of several ethnic groups, all of whom were touched by the horrors in one way or another.

Thirty years ago, President Juvenal Habyarimana ordered the creation of the Ballet National du Rwanda to promote the cultural and folkloric traditions of the nation. At its height, the company included 200 members and, according to Musasizi, in 1987 and 1988 was internationally recognized as the world's best folkloric dance company. Rwanda's 100-day genocide was triggered by Habyarimana's death in a plane crash on April 6, 1994.

"What has changed for us is the national importance given to the folkloric tradition," observes Musasizi, 31, several days after a countrywide observance of the genocide at the National Stadium in the capital city of Kigali. …

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