There is always a discussion about “Where are all of the Black Ballet Dancers” well I happy to share this story of a African-German dancer who is currently carving out her path a the National Ballet of Canada. Her pointe shoes touched American soil when she trained and the JKO school in New York City. Keep you eyes peeled for the progress of this long legged beauty:
Hosted by Pointe Magazine
Ready For Takeoff
If Adji Cissoko hadn’t failed a simple test at age 6, she might never have become a dancer. In Germany, Cissoko’s homeland, children routinely get a medical examination before entering elementary school. “I had difficulties when the doctor asked me to make a circle while reciting a certain sentence,” she recalls. “He told my mother it would improve my coordination and spatial awareness if I took dance.”
That was 1997. Today, Cissoko, 20, has just completed her first season with the National Ballet of Canada. The company’s artistic director, Karen Kain, has high hopes for her. Cissoko, however, is not your average budding professional, nor has her journey been without a few bumps. At 5’ 9”, she’s tall. A short torso, long limbs and a lean build make her look even taller. As Cissoko acknowledges, learning to control such an expansive body and to move at speed are continuing challenges.
And there’s more. Cissoko is of African descent, a woman aiming for ballet’s stratosphere in a traditional art form that still struggles to adapt to the realities of a multicultural world. Cissoko’s West African father, a musician, came to Germany as a young man from French-speaking Senegal. Her mother, a nurse, is German and white. Cissoko says her lankiness comes straight from her father’s side. She attributes her leanness as much to genes as to the grueling work. “I eat a lot,” Cissoko says reassuringly in careful, German-accented English. (She also speaks French and Spanish, and understands Senegalese.)
Toronto audiences have had early opportunities to appreciate Cissoko’s somewhat raw but unmistakable talent. Apart from her height and color, Cissoko stands out for the concentrated intensity, energy and sense of purpose she invests in whatever she dances, while still seeming natural and spontaneous. Depending on the choreography, her arms can float delicately or slice through space like a knife. Above all, the sheer pleasure she takes in dancing—much more than a warm smile—is palpable. It’s a joy she clearly strives to share.
As a child, Cissoko began weekly free-form movement classes at the Munich Ballet Academy. Her teachers spotted an unusual talent and she soon moved into formal Vaganova-based ballet training. Year by year, her dance schedule intensified to the point that she had to complete her academic studies in night school.
In 2009 she traveled to Switzerland to compete in the Prix de Lausanne. She did not make the finals, but she had what turned out to be a fateful meeting: Karen Kain (president of the jury that year) was waiting for a train to Geneva when she spotted Cissoko on the platform. “I’d noted Adji’s talent, even if it was clear she hadn’t got used to the length of her legs yet,” says Kain, in her day also considered a tall dancer. “I knew how she must be feeling, so I went up and told her how good I thought she was and not to be discouraged.”
Continue to read at PointeMagazine.com