Posted by: APO | 16 February 2012

Ivory Coast / Choreographer and Dancer Michel Kouakou Wins Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise / Ivory Coast native takes on four continents, with no sign of stopping

Ivory Coast / Choreographer and Dancer Michel Kouakou Wins Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise / Ivory Coast native takes on four continents, with no sign of stopping

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, February 16, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ The Vilcek Foundation ( is pleased to name Mr. Michel Kouakou as the recipient of the 2012 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Arts, this year awarded in the field of dance. Originally of Ivory Coast, Mr. Kouakou has performed and presented his choreography in several countries in four different continents, including Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. He is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Daara Dance company.


Photo: (Michel Kouakou, born in Ivory Coast and currently living in the United States, is the recipient of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Dance, for his globally influenced performances and choreography. The awards, given by the Vilcek Foundation, honor the contributions of immigrant artists living in America.)

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Arts is awarded annually to a young, foreign-born artist who epitomizes the vitality immigrant artists infuse into the American arts. Mr. Kouakou is no exception to this standard: his choreography draws widely upon all of his global experiences. He performs both traditional West African and American contemporary dance, and choreographs in a space in between. “You see both of these strains, African and American, and the tensions between them, in his choreography. He is already playing with identity and displacement, sometimes to great effect,” said Claudia La Rocco, from The New York Times.

Daara Dance was formed in 2003, and Mr. Kouakou has since received significant honors for his work with the company, including a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship. In the U.S., he has performed at Joyce Soho, Dance Theater Workshop, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Bates Dance


Festival. Abroad, his work has been presented in London, Holland, France, Chad, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Italy, Israel and the Czech Republic. When not performing, Mr. Kouakou is a dance instructor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Vilcek Foundation is pleased to present the $25,000 cash award to an artist as passionate and committed as Mr. Kouakou. Despite growing up in a family that discouraged his interest in dance, and in a country without a strong culture of dance appreciation and instruction, Mr. Kouakou was nevertheless irrepressibly drawn to the art form and was discovered on the streets of Abidjan at the age of 15. He was accepted in Ki Yi M’Bock Village, a youth arts conservatory, and started his formal training in dance. He has since studied under notable choreographers such as Germaine Acogny, Reggie Wilson, Bud Blumenthal, and Kora Yamazaki.

The 2012 Vilcek Prizes for Dance, awarded to a foreign-born dance professional with a record of lifetime achievement, will be presented to Mr. Mikhail Baryshnikov, born in Latvia to Russian parents. He is currently the Artistic Director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The prize includes a $100,000 cash award.

Mr. Kouakou and Mr. Baryshnikov were chosen after months of deliberation by juries of dance professionals – critics, writers, dancers, choreographers, and instructors from institutions such as The Juilliard School, Dance Magazine, New York City Ballet, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The juries also selected four finalists for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, who will receive $5,000 each:

•    French-born Fanny Ara, known for both her traditional and modern flamenco performances and choreography;

•    Vietnamese-born Thang Dao, an accomplished performer and founder of the Thang Dao Dance Company;

•    Italian-born Alice Gosti, a modern choreographer who turned heads with her provocative piece Spaghetti Co.; and

•    Swedish-born Pontus Lidberg, an interdisciplinary ballet choreographer and performer who has presented his work around the world.

The prizewinners and finalists will be honored at the Vilcek Foundation’s annual awards presentation dinner in New York City on April 2, 2012.

The Vilcek Prizes in Biomedical Science are awarded alongside the Vilcek Prizes for Biomedical Science. For more information, please visit

Distributed by the African Press Organization on behalf of the Vilcek Foundation.

For questions regarding the Vilcek Foundation and Vilcek Prizes, contact Joyce Li.

Joyce Li

+1 (917) 432-5328

For questions regarding the winners of the Vilcek Prizes in Dance, contact Jenny Lerner.

Jenny Lerner

+1 (212) 486-7229


The Vilcek Foundation


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