Dancing for development

August 2014 - Junaid Jemal Sendi, 2004-2005 Dance Protégé

A decade ago, Junaid Jemal Sendi, from Ethiopia, was dance protégé in the Rolex Arts Initiative, the first young African to take part in the philanthropic programme. Now aged 29, and himself a mentor to young dancers in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Sendi describes his objectives of changing people’s lives and using the power of dance to help develop his country.

Rolex Arts Initiative: You have been a dancer for much of your life. How has dance shaped your life?
Junaid Jemal Sendi: I have been dancing for most of my life, but have also had considerable experience with choreography. In choreography there are myriad details that you only comprehend after long experience, such as the transition of motion, detail in movements, the tension of movement, and how to put this with music. Also you grow to understand not only a good movement but to recognize a dancer with the unique quality to enhance the possibilities of the choreography that you want to do.I was part of the Adugna Dance Company since 1996, but now I have created a new company called Destino Dance Company with my colleague Addisu Demissie.

Why did you decide to set up Destino Dance Company?
Because in life one has one’s goals and mine is to give the chance that I got to others. I felt that wasn’t possible with the Adugna, so I decided to find someone with similar goals as mine – that was Addisu Demissie – and we started the new dance company.

You were mentored by leading Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara for a year (2004–2005) in the Rolex Arts Initiative. Has he influenced where you are now?
There were many things I learned from him and the different techniques that he creates in the smoothness of his movements are still in my body. It was through him I learned how to create a solo choreography for myself, which I did in 2010. Additionally, I learned to work with blind people, and did choreography for them with Saburo in Lille, France.

You once said that when you found out about the Rolex mentorship, it was the happiest moment of your life. What has been your happiest moment since then?
To be honest nothing as much as that mentorship, but recently I was very happy to start Destino.

How many people are in Destino Dance Company?

Three choreographers, including Addisu and me, and 10 dancers. We also are teaching 25 new students for free.

You have in fact become a mentor yourself. How are you doing that?
I teach many people around Addis Ababa, but mainly our company Destino has about 25 dancers whom we are mentoring. They have lots of potential and, as dance in Ethiopia is not offered in university or a proper dance school, our students have a lot to get from us, so we have a lot to give them and we are doing it bit by bit.

We are also planning to give a proper three-year training – like the training we had – to 12 young people drawn from orphans, young offenders and street children. We are sending out proposals to find funding for this.

How often does the company perform in public?
We do many performances every year; it depends on demand, because we do some shows on request. We also have our own productions four to five times a year. For the moment they are local, but some have travelled to African countries, and we are in talks to take some dancers to Europe.

What are the challenges of operating a dance company in Addis Ababa?
The first challenge is to find suitable performing space to teach our young, talented students, because theatres and big halls are commercially oriented and it takes considerable effort to make them understand such space was created for art. A further challenge is to find financial support for our young dancers.

What do you hope to achieve nationally and internationally with the company?
I’d like to finish the three-year training programme for disadvantaged young people and develop more strong, creative dancers; also to create the first dance festival in Ethiopia; and to undertake more international tours with the new company to promote Ethiopia and its culture.

Where do you see the future of Destino Dance Company?
I hope the company will create the next generation of dancers by passing on the experience we have to them and inspire as many people as possible. I want to use the power of dance to influence political and social activities for the development of Ethiopia.