Junaid Jemal Sendi talks about his year as a Rolex protégé
What was your most important artistic achievement before you began participating in the programme?
My first artistic achievement was choreographing the pieceYemot Guzofor Sanga 3, a dance competition in Madagascar in 2003. Of 71 works entered on video, it was ranked at the top, and our company, Adugna, was invited to perform in Madagascar. That was our first piece that got extensive coverage in the media, throughout Ethiopia and also abroad.
How did the mentoring year progress?
At first, I just watched as Saburo Teshigawara managed lights and arranged the stage. Then when he was creating choreography, I made videos. Next he invited me to Italy to do a small part in a piece. At the end, in Japan, I was doing a big part in another piece. Now Saburo wants me to continue in his company and perform with them in Europe. So it grew from just watching and doing nothing to doing something and then to being a real member of the group.
What was the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
It’s great that Rolex makes this investment in a young artist to work and explore. A young person has time to do a lot in his long life. He can learn a lot, and it’s not too late to teach others.
Is there one incident that sums up your relationship with your mentor?
The first day I worked with him, I asked: “How do you make choreography to dance yourself?” And Saburo answered: “Talk to the air! You can fight or struggle with the air. Talk to the wall! The wall can be your partner. With images like this, talking with air and the wall, or swimming through space like water … you can create something new. It’s like working with another person.”
What was the single most important lesson or piece of advice your mentor gave you?
The process was really comfortable. He didn’t really pull me into the group right away and ask me to do things. He taught me things slowly. He gave me time to observe and see everything. Now, whenever I teach or if I become someone’s mentor, that is how I want to work.
Did you learn from your mentor any lessons beyond the practice of your art?
Saburo doesn’t concentrate only on dance. He also is involved in art projects, videos, posters, photography. Sometimes if he sees you in a position that would be really good in a magazine, he says: “Do it again,” and he takes a photograph. He thinks beyond dance. Anything that is art can be in touch with dance.
Can you describe in two or three sentences the most beneficial aspects, for you, of the mentoring year?
The most useful thing was working one-on-one. I’ve never had that chance before, even with dance directors who spent a lot of time at Adugna. They would always have to spend their time with all of us – 16 or 18 dancers. Working one-on-one you learn a lot. You can ask your mentor questions any time you want, because he’s right there. That made me very happy. I couldn’t have gotten this chance in Africa – or in New York either! Artists rarely get such a chance anywhere in the world. I feel really lucky.
Now that the mentoring year has ended, which direction will your artistic career take?
I want to continue working with Saburo’s company to experiment and explore the technique he taught me. I want to continue to perform with his company and learn more. And I want to make his technique mine: to take what I have learned from him and other teachers … and find my own way. I hope something really good will come out.
Is there any other comment you would like to add?
Yes. In Africa, we have many social issues, and the people who have money are not using it to support the arts. Rolex is doing amazing work supporting young artists throughout the world. It’s hard for me to say this, because it’s something I feel very deeply. But the only people who can teach people about what life is about are artists. Artists can do a lot in this world. I really want to thank Rolex for the great job they’re doing. If I get the chance in the future, I want to do what Rolex is doing: helping young artists do their big job in the world.