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Sunshine Coast artists unite to tour stories and dance in Congo

An African author and performer who made the Sunshine Coast his home two decades ago has recruited a local tap dancer to spark creativity across the Republic of Congo.
Gabriel Ditmars and Jean-Pierre Makosso rehearse for performances across Congo.

An African author and performer who made the Sunshine Coast his home two decades ago has recruited a local tap dancer to spark creativity across the Republic of Congo.

Jean-Pierre Makosso is a poet and storyteller who was born in Pointe-Noire, Congo. In 2001, Makosso moved to Gibsons, which has remained his base during years of international festival appearances and the creation of an artistic company named Makosso Village.

“This is the city that made me who I am now,” said Makosso, who recently published his latest in a sequence of French and English novels, short stories and poetry. Gestes d’Auguste was released last year. “In anything I will be doing from now on, the Sunshine Coast is part of my life,” added Makosso. “I will be connecting my [activities] with this place, and I’m taking the youth.”

During the upcoming Congo tour, Makosso will travel with Roberts Creek-based tap performer and dance instructor Gabriel Ditmars. Three young artists from Ottawa and Montreal were also selected by Makosso for the two-week cultural cavalcade.

The group departed for southwest Africa on Oct. 25. The trip is Ditmars’s first time traveling overseas.

“I was kind of starstruck,” said Ditmars, “and it didn’t really seem real for the first couple of weeks. I probably would have been too shy to ever plan a trip to Africa. But the fact that I’m going with someone who I trust and respect and admire so much just felt so perfect that I couldn’t say no.”

Makosso first saw Ditmars on stage 10 years ago when the dancer, then aged 11, portrayed the Dalai Lama in a production named Tribute to Mandela at the Heritage Playhouse.

This summer, Ditmars performed in Connections, an amalgam of creative dance and live music. Makosso also appeared in the show as a drummer and storyteller and was impressed at the Ditmars’s fleet-footed confidence.

“I couldn’t believe that he has grown to become that great tap dancer,” said Makosso. “And then I figured that a tap dancer can go very good with my poetry. I saw the image of how I can work with him.”

Rehearsals for the Congo tour took place over weeks at studios of the Gibsons Dance Centre.

The ensemble will perform in schools across Congo and mount shows in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The tour was facilitated by Makosso’s brother, who has served as the country’s prime minister since 2021. The siblings see the visit as a tribute to their mother, who died 12 years ago.

Two books will anchor Makosso’s performances — Cantiques pour Sainte Marie Mère Thérèse and Assis sur les genoux de ma mère — which chronicle his mother’s influence. “I wrote [Assis sur les genoux] to worship the mothers, the part they do in our lives,” he said.

The trip will include collaboration with students at the film school in Pointe-Noire that Makosso is building. Some 30 students are enrolled at the institution, which he has already visited twice this year.

When he arrives in Africa with his corps of performers, Makosso hopes his late mother will sense the connections he has built in Canada. “It’s like saying ‘See, Mom?’” he said. “I had these people while I was gone. Don’t worry, I have this family.”