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Decentralizing the Human Figure in Choreography

Gurur Ertem: Your company “Beau Geste” was created in 1981 by seven dancers of the  Centre National de Danse Contemporaine  which was headed at that time by the American choreographer Alwin Nikolaїs –someone we now considered as a pioneer of multi-media theatre.

From 1950s onwards into the 80’s, Nikolaїs had revolutionized the theatre stage by “decentralizing” the human dancer attributing equal importance to non-human actors such as stage props, lighting, and music. Could one say that your interest in non-human dancers and actors in your work – i.e. an excavator in Transports exceptionneles, a landscape of toys and an electric train in Travelling– bears some traces of Nikolaїs’ heritage? If yes, what are the ways in which Beau Geste carries this heritage forward?

Dominique Boivin: I think I have taken over from Nikolaїs “decentralization” or “decenteredness” –I mean the potential to pay attention to everything while maintaining a distance. It creates some sort of humor in my work.

In Transports exceptionneles what interests me is giving life to a machine, turning it into a dancer, -just like animating a puppet- attributing emotion to a it so that the audience can see it as a romantic and classical dance. While the machine is a part of everyday urban life the human remains vulnerable, fragile. The relationship between these two bodies is seen as a vast construction site where nothing is stabe. Just like love.

In Travelling there is a journey on the body to turn it into a landscape. Making visible the beauty of the body, its lines and volumes, seeing the body as a landscape that changes depending on the movements and goals…

I don’t know if it is possible to talk about a heritage in the two cases, but what is certain is that Nikolais’ training gave me the desire to look at the other, to understand, analyze and to conceive the other. A machine or a camera on an electric train -both enable me to look at the other with a distance.

G.E: Could you tell us a little bit about the influence of American choreographers in general in France in the late 70’s and 80’s? Up until that time, the center of experimentation in dance was the United States, but later on it shifted to Europe, mainly, to France.

D.B: I experienced the 70s and 80s like a large labaratory of experimentation and creation. The contribution of American dance in France in 70s and 80s was very important, it contributed to the originality of French dance. We started to no longer fear getting away from realism, classical and neoclassical dance. Besides, abstraction as a representational form that Americans had been experimenting with for a long time enabled us to take into consideration formal matters. A unique French dance started to develop after the Left got into power in 1981 started to support dance.

G.E: You have created quite diverse pieces – you seem to have never stopped re-inveting yourself. What have been some major transformations and turning points in your career of 35 years?

D.B: I have tried to reconcile my two different sides: The part of me that is confused because of dance and art in general and the more simple and unrefined part. These two are entirely different but at the same time belong to me. My work tries to bring together obsessively these two sides of me. If I am to talk about a turning point I guess I am going to revolve around this problem: to be reconciled

G.E: How do outdoor performances such as Transports exceptionneles transform choreography and viewership? Was it ever performed on the stage, and if yes, how would you compare the impact of the piece in the two different contexts?

D.B: When  Transports exceptionneles is presented in its natural habitat which is the city setting, it finds its true place among people in everyday life. This is the natural habitat of the machine, but the human remains fragile next to it. When the machine is on stage or indoors, a more “classical” representation unfolds. I like both versions.

G.E: What is your take on  the relationship between dance and humor?

D.B: I was not taken very seriously in the 70s when I had started to bring together dance and humor. In fact dance was a serious business at that time! Gradually dance tried to become more humane and because humor is the most distinctive character of being human, the two got finally consummated.

G.E: As Beau Geste Company, you also invest in pedagogy. It is written on your website that “creativity and technique cannot be dissociated from each other” and that “dance is a representative art which demands not only a rigorous execution, but also clarity in its intention”.  Is this clarity something that is teachable or learnable? What is your approach to pedagogy? What would be the ideal training for a dancer and for a choreographer?

D.B: For me technique should remain only as a tool. It shoud be at the service of a dancer who might want to use it or not. A gesture or a movement should be completely assimilated by the dancer and it should be clear. There should be no room for doubt or regret. A performer who regrets to be on stage is doomed to failure. Similarly, an artist who messep up his intentions transmits a confusing message to the audience. My pedagogical approach asks something first from the human, not from the dancer. The dancer is at the service of the sensitivity,  uniquness and singulaity of the artist. I think many people have the capacity to learn a technique but very few succeed in making good use of it and overcoming it.

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