All images provided courtesy of Dusk Devi & Pacific Runway
Stanley Nalo is an emerging hip-hop dancer, born in Nouméa and raised in Vanuatu. After college, he came back to Nouméa where he danced with break dance crews. He competed in various hip-hop battles in France including Battle of the Year 2011 (6th place), Juste Debout 2016 (final) and was winner of the European Street Tour Event 2016. Stanley as worked with choreographers such as Kader Attou and Brahim Bouchelaghem. In Nouméa he is part of Moebius Company and performed in Humanité choreogragraphed by Yoan Ouchot, which was presented as part of Festival WAAN Danse, Nouméa 2017.
We caught up with him whilst he was in Sydney for the world premiere of Marrugeku’s latest work, Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry.
E: Hey Stan, thanks so much for taking time to sit down and talanoa with me about your life and work. I’d love to hear about your journey into dance. Can you share with me how that manifested?
S: Yeah well basically after high school I was wondering what I was going to do with my life. I was already dancing for a few years and I really felt I could do something with it because my dad was a musician and my mum worked in the radio so basically art was definitely something I wanted to go inside. When you grow up you have to think about responsibilities, what you want to do with your life, how you are supposed to be make money, how you can make your family be proud of you.
So I realised I was a little interested in psychology. And I wouldn’t say the pressure, but the hope and the love that your family puts in you makes you actually want to go out and do studies and go outside. It’s like maybe outside you can find something you can bring back home, with money also, so this is the path I chose. Mostly my friends go to study somewhere else, so yeah I took the decision to France and I studied psychology for four years but between my studies and going to sleep I would always find time to go dancing. I’ve done a lot of competitions and surprised a lot of people so I was thinking more and more “Yeah, I can actually do something with it” but there was always that responsibility of hard work that comes back to you. “You can’t do that, it’s not easy and it won’t be easy on your family either.” So I kept on doing psychology, which I really liked and it also helped me a lot in my artistic dancing. It taught me open mindedness. I had to choose and I couldn’t stand the rthym. When you go to uni, ,you cannot go to uni and just go to sleep. You have to be interested, you have to read and I really like doing all of that stuff but dancing was just too much inside me. So I quit and I went back home. Where everybody thought I wasn’t going to be able to do something, especially in dancing, it’s a small island like all the other islands in the Pacific. And actually something happened over there. I found my dancing crew which I was already dancing with before leaving. So I kept dancing with them and started doing professional shows like getting paid to do performances all over the country and then Marrugeku came for a lab and they discovered me. Yoan (fellow dancer) presented me to them, there was a few dancers missing from Marrugeku so he said Stan might interest. And so they said, come to the labs and yeah….let’s discover each other. Let’s dance and see how things go. And actually a few day later, Rachel and Dalisa came to me and proposed that I join the company as we connected on a humanitarian and artistic level. They offered work for two years, and this to me was like what I was looking for since more than 10 years of dance! I was like “Can I just come back with my mum being worried about what I’m doing with my future?” And actually those people come to me and yeah you’re gonna be dancing with us, and you’ll be paid and covered and you’ll have a flat overseas and money for food. And I reckon my mother now is very proud of me because she’s always been saying “Do what you want in life, unless you hurt someone. But if you feel like doing something, go for it.” And yeah, I really thank my mum for what I’ve become now and God also. I’ve always been praying and hoping something would happen, and it didn’t happen when I wanted it to happen, it happened at the right moments. So I’m really thankful for having faith.
E: It sounds like Marrugeku have played a significant role in finding stability, and trusting in your skill as a dancer.
S: Yeah I think so because because basically what I was doing for before Marrugeku was little contracts. We want this kind of show in 6 months for example. so the 6 months rehearsal you would be paid, but after this there’s nothing and you’re finished. And you have to look for something else, so unless finding something in between those 6 months or you might do a good show which makes people come and get interested. But yeah we actually want the same thing, you’re always wondering what’s going to happen afterwards. And even though we have a lot of contracts it’s a small island so it’s not the same amount, it’s not the same salary that I’m aiming for. You need food, you need money to pay for what home needs and you need to be stable and that’s what Marrugeku gave to me and I feel very thankful for that. The lifestyle with Marrugeku was something I was searching for in order to progress in terms of art and vision of life. And also dancing with people that have the same way of thinking in terms of evolution and being open minded to what happens around you. So I really thank Marrugeku for that actually.
E: What other lessons has Marrugeku taught you creatively?
S: Well, you have to be able to work with people who don’t have the same dance you have. This is something you need to be able to do. You have to be used to different ways of working. It also gives you a lot of success. You can be free to try a lot of things with those dancers because they’re ready to receive what you give and to give back also. Like it’s a sharing thing. It’s being aware of what the person is doing an trying to make a connection. Marrugeku helped me find a lot of people in that same mood. In a small island it doesn’t happen that often, it happens, but not as often as it’s always the same people. Sometimes you need to find something new and bring it back. Come back to your country and give it and so it creates something new in your country. And maybe someone will go and come back and give something to you and that’s what it’s about. I mean, we need to go outside at some point to be open minded but the roots is something important to make you grow as well. If you don’t have your roots you will never to be able to grow.
Marrugeku to me, is helping me keep that balance. I get to discover new people and then I go back home. And they come back home with me! So we do the show where I go come from and I get to give them something, aside from artistic moves I can give them something else. It’s pretty much like a family than just working with people who can pay you and so on.
E: Do you think being able to exchange with other dancers is important?
S: Physically or mentally?
S: On the physical side, yes. Because a lot of people don’t move in the same way you do so you get to discover new ways of moving, new energy, new vibes, new music. And mentally it’s the same thing. You see people having that much potential and working way harder than you and it makes you feel safe in the fact knowing you’re not the only one working hard. People around you are working as hard as you are. So it gives strength, courage and a lot of love as well. You feel like there actually is a community in what you’re doing.
E: What are your thoughts on giving back to your home, New Caledonia? Do you see your role as an artist you should give back to community?
S: Well, it wouldn’t be interesting to just work and make money and go on a world tour and never come back home just because I want to be famous. I think the most important thing is to come back on your island and show what you’ve done and what other’s can do. If I can do this, you can do it too, the dream I had inside my mind and didn’t even know I could do – you can definitely do this. So, I’ve tried to o something, it took me a lot of time, maybe it’ll take you less time or more but just know it can happen. You can do it. And this is what it’s about. I think coming back is very important because we have been given things so why shouldn’t we give back?
E: Obviously this work you’re currently in, it broaches very difficult concepts around decolonization, and it doesn’t answer the questions it poses but rather addresses a state of being and feeling. For you as a dancer and a New Caledonian, how has this experience been for you?
S: I understand that political change is not going to create change if states of mind don’t change. Vanuatu got independent because the Indigenous people got independent way before that happened and that’s how things are supposed to be happening. People have to be ready for something. If political stuff changes and New Caledonia still thinks a certain way there’s no way things will get better. And so being in Marrugeku, when media and people try to ask me “So what are you really trying to say about the referendum? And things like that, I’m just saying what I feel. And I don’t feel like saying what I think about the changes or what it should be. I’m just saying how I feel about what’s going on with you guys just quarrelling and getting into fights. To me that’s not necessary. We are all humans, we all need food, we all need love. So what’s the point of all of that? The choice is a duality choice , as if you have to choose between one thing and a nother. Maybe there is a third solution. If the question is “How do you feel about the referendum?” I don’t feel okay with either decision, actually. I just feel okay with saying to people to wake up. And to try, even though it’s hard, to work with each other, with all our differences, culturally speaking and so on. None of us think the same thing about the referendum and the treaties, here in Australia. We just agree on the fact that we are all impacted by that. And we agree that everybody has the right to say something about it, this is why we are all saying something different but saying it together onstage. It’s like one of the phiospher in France, I think it was Moliere, he said “I might not be okay with what you are saying and what your beliefs are but I will do anything to make you be able to say it”. It’s expression. You definitely have the right to say what you feel. So say it!
You can follow Stanley’s journey on instagram at @stan_dread
For those in Europe, you can watch Stan perform in Le Dernier Appel at the following venues and dates:
Le Manège | Maubeuge | France
Concertgebouw | Brugge | Belgium
L’Espal | Scène Nationale | Le Mans | France