MOMO SANNO – Dazzling the world one dance at a time

Text by Olga Kononykhina
Photos by Carioca Studio, Franz Galo, Pollak Po
October 6, 2015 Culture — Issue 2

Momo is one of those people who lights up a room and mesmerises audiences and when everybody just wants to know who he is, he nails it with a story of his Romanian origin. His body language is an intense mix of wildness, graciousness, passion and beauty. His dance is familiar and yet an eye-opener at the same time – as if you know the story he is trying to tell, but suddenly it is a journey filled with so many colours. Momo’s natural form of communication would be dancing, filled with glimpses of emotion, however he happily agreed to stop for a brief moment to change direction and answer a few questions.

How was it growing up in the provincial Romanian city of Galati. Did you feel that you were different?


I never saw my skin colour as a problem, I knew my father was black and that’s why I was black too and I don’t remember wanting to be white or more similar to others.


Your parents separated when you were a baby. How did your mother raise you? Was she your female and male role model?


I don’t believe in gender role models being necessary to raise a happy child; rather there is a concept of an adult mind to me. I was a kid and kids understand certain stuff, some jokes or comments, but they aren’t really fixed on anything until there is a significant adult who cements right or wrong ideas in their mind. My mom was and still is a very different person. From an early age she surrounded my sisters and me with open-minded people, she taught me freedom and never imposed her will on either of us.
Probably that sounds surprising because Romania was and is more conservative than some Western countries, but really the first time I recognised racism was in the USA in 2003. Before, I studied in Germany and had problems with auditions, as no one expected a Romanian to be black and I had to pass an appearance expectation test first, before they would actually assess my dancing skills.


You have Romanian and Liberian origin in your blood, you have travelled the world, absorbed and lived within lots of different cultures. Where is home for you?


Home is where one is not a stranger.


But even in Romania you are either recognised as a TV star or seen as a foreigner. How does it feel to be perceived as an outsider by default even in your home country?


Romanians are usually very curious and being perceived as a foreigner is not necessary a disadvantage. They come, they ask, they congratulate my knowledge of languages and indeed they want to know more when they find out that I am Romanian. Surely there are people who don’t believe I can understand them, but I doubt it’s because of my appearance.


What are you trying to achieve with your dance?


In general I want my dance to make people think and go deeper into themselves. I don’t believe in providing direct answers, or offer one way to have a better life. I like exposing my audience to things their conscious mind may not know but something inside them will still understand.


When in a theatre, I bring the quality of big productions from around the world, that I was a part of, to my every performance. I spend time searching for the right music or a particular type of a light effect, rehearse and shape my character, so that my audience can have a very personal and solid story to live through with me.


If I carry out projects in public spaces I enjoy breaking linearity or a role of a certain fixed place. For example I see people rushing because they follow a daily routine and suddenly they see my dance and stop, and for the next five minutes schedules and business isn’t a priority.


For those who want to study dance I aim to not only show a technique of a movement, but also bring a mood, flavour, vibe and story I experienced in different countries or places where a particular style originated.


Even in my everyday life I can make a change by breaking stereotypes just saying that I’m Romanian.


Do you feel privileged?


I’m privileged to keep discovering my own body, to work with something that is so close to me and to be able to express myself through me and not through some external idea for example.