In the context of the end of the 1990s, when the choreographic world in France was being shaken by debates on the institutionalisation of dance, the place of the directors of national choreographic centres was called into question, in particular by the collective of the “Signataires du 20 août” (1997), which was aimed, among others, at Régine Chopinot. A few years later, Chopinot supported the movement of the “intermittents du spectacle” (workers of the entertainment industry) in 2003 and was still getting mixed reactions from the dance world. In 2004, she knew that her departure from the CCN de la Rochelle (National Choreography Centre of La Rochelle) had been announced and she wanted, with this piece, to provoke and send an irreverent message to the institution.
This piece belongs to the Fin des Temps (“End of Time”) trilogy, consisting of 1° “Chair Obscur” (Obscure Flesh), 2° “WHA” and 3° “O.C.C.C.”. This trilogy is an extensive investigation of her writing and choreographic creation following a conscious crisis about the general concepts of time, memory and construction.
Workshops on the creation of “WHA” were run, aimed at the dancers of the company and those from other collectives. These workshops sought to work on the topic of memory and resulted in public presentations in 2004-2005 (Lyon, Cologne, Berlin, Munich, Nantes and La Rochelle).
Two versions of the piece were proposed, one in 2004 and a second in 2005 with new tour dates. In 2006, another version of “WHA” was shown at the Chapelle Fromentin (La Rochelle), entitled “WHA 909” and danced by 6 dancers.
“WHA” (Warning Hazardous Area) was performed on several big stages: Théâtre de Cornouaille (Quimper), Lieu unique (Nantes), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), Les Brigittines (Brussels) and the Chapelle Fromentin (La Rochelle).
Using the multiplication of gestures, some simple objects and a choreographic vocabulary, “WHA” gives free rein to the dancers who interpret a merry score, exuberantly carried out in a work of improvisation. Jean Michel Bruyère is responsible for the set design, which mixes lines of chairs, piled up tables, two statues of stags – which would be used again for the creation of “Very Wetr!” in 2012-13 - , pockets of water, microphones, etc. In the beginning, the piece was supposed to be performed by nine dancers, but, by the end of the rehearsals, only three remained… In the end, Régine remained on stage, surrounded by two of her most loyal dancers, Virginie Garcia and John Bateman.
Dancers move about in all directions, never stop moving, surrendering themselves to frantic actions, on the ground, in the air, everywhere at the same time, without interruption. The impression of disorder is accentuated by the electronic rave music mixed live and added to J.M. Bruyère's texts, which become almost inaudible in this ceaseless hubbub of noise. Items of furniture are used by the dancers who also perform in the costumes of Jean Paul Gaultier which were used in the company's previous creations (“Le Défilé” (The Fashion Show), “Délices” (Delights) and “KOK”), as if the skin of BARC was somehow reinventing itself!
Beyond the initial discourse on “WHA” as the reference to idiocy in art as an act of resistance against the authorities who decree what has value (cf. the book by Jean-Yves Jouannais, “L'idiotie en art” (“idiocy in art”), ed. Beaux-arts magazine, Paris, 2003) or against the Dada movement, the piece proposes a look at the history and concepts which shaped the world of contemporary choreographic creation. Perhaps “WHA” is simply an invitation to (re)discover “the world of Chopinot”, an iconic dancer-choreographer whose unique career revolves as much around a style as around an intellectual stance which has never ceased to investigate the idea of creation itself. Three principles are decreed by Chopinot for this piece: “to walk aimlessly / to act without beginning or end / to be overactive without producing anything” (quoted by Annie Suquet, Le Mans: ed. Cénomane, 2010).
These could be summarised as follows: “To be there, without any pretext” (Régine Chopinot, “WHA 909” programme, Nov. 2006).
The audience is divided, the critics too. This piece disturbs some and delights others.
““WHA” is undoubtedly the most radical of Régine Chopinot's shows. It takes to the highest level of revolt the desire to resist all forms of apathy found almost everywhere in society. It is a question of never giving up, literally and figuratively, and of wondering: what remains to be danced in 2004? The dancers are literally penetrated by gestures, some of which last for only a split second. Speed is the name of the game. It seems that any action carried out or begun constitutes a threat. Régine Chopinot renounces the slightest movement as soon as it takes shape.”
Muriel Steimetz (Vidéodanse festival programme, Paris 2008)
“A gesticulation by Régine Chopinot presented in Paris […] If “Chair/Obscur”, in 2002, caused many reactions in the audience – the show tackled the issues of death, ageing and mass graves – here it is passivity which prevails instead. The elements of the set design, the costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier (to some extent, rather cumbersome remainders of their previous collaborations, including “Le Défilé”), all these crumbs which could have given meaning and material to the dance, are served up to her by three solitary characters, in the grip of the (very) cold sweats of improvisation.”
M.-C. Vernay, Libération, 12 February, 2004
“W.H.A.: a piece which bursts your bubble of joy like the taking of an extreme risk, an enormous anarchistic prank, burning your bridges, a tornado at the beginning of the adventure, or the liquidation of your assets. A brilliant storming of one of the most populated prisons in the world: the seriousness. One has rarely seen a project progress in such an unpredictable way towards the biggest stages. […] And why? For one of the most surprising experiments seen on stage for a long time, giving the unexpected sensation of seeing a show like we've never seen before (even if you go to the theatre every night for years on end). Oh! Not a big deal really. But an enormity: the renunciation of making sense."
Gerard Mayen, mouvement.net, February 2004
This video was shown in March 2007 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris) for the exhibition « Jean Paul Gaultier Régine Chopinot. Le Défilé », 22 mars – 23 septembre 2007.
The film was made at the Chapelle Fromentin, with security cameras.
The piece title may provide from a Chopinot trip in Vietnam when she saw an inscription in the plane with "Warning hazardous area" (source: M.-C. Vernay, Libération, 12 Februrary 2004).
Updating: February 2013