‘I dance like a brush, trying to paint musical motifs in the air.’ 30-year-old graphic designer, multidisciplinary artist and professional dancer, Smaïl Kanouté pivots at the intersection between art and dance. 

You’ll be able to see his latest work PROJECTION(S) at the FRAGMENTS festival in Paris on November 19 – 20.

The dance is the result of a meeting with the artist Philippe Baudelocque whose drawings are displayed on Smail’s body: ‘My body puts into relief the drawings which construct and deconstruct my silhouette. I appear and disappear in this universe. Drawing and dancer are indissociable because we need one another to exist.’

From dancing to Michael Jackson with friends – ‘I stuttered so dancing was another way to express myself’ – when he was younger, Smaïl trained as a street dancer, practising at Parc de La Villette, in the northeast of Paris, using shop windows as mirrors. ‘The city is my playing field. The street taught me freedom.’ He doesn’t dance hip hop as he finds it too constrictive, and at odds with his free-form movements. ‘You have to master the technique before you can dance it. That’s why I don’t take part in ‘battles’, because I don’t have the technique and to win, the jury has to recognise what you’re dancing.’

He’s taken part in a variety of projects – from a dance to celebrate the inauguration of the Rosa Parks wall, the longest wall for street art in Paris, to dancing at an exhibition put on by the stylist Lamyne M. Inspired by the Dervish dance in Sufi Islam, he danced around royal costumes in the Basilique de Saint Denis: ‘It was powerful to dance around the costumes of kings and queens of France.’

He’s also danced at the Pantheon in the centre of Paris, a monument where famous French philosophers and authors are buried. ‘We danced in this monument to great men in French history.  Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas et Aimé Césaire are buried there. It didn’t please everyone but we wanted to show that we belonged to France too.’

Smaïl Kanouté from WEAR'T @smail_kanoute

Now he’s looking forward to working on an interpretation of Jean-Pierre Hamon’s book Les Actes du Desert, written near Timbuktu in Mali. ‘It resonated for me as I want to deepen my appreciation of mandingue culture – in parallel to the graphic art research which I do whenever I go to places where my family is from.’

His influences from the street, his heritage and the people he meets find their way into his dance: ‘My dance is fluid, whirling and flexible. I merge contemporary and African moves.’ Go see him in action at the La Loge theatre in Paris.

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