“I want to express the problems of our century!”
This formula was used in the 1930s by the American Martha Graham, a leading figure in modern American dance, to state the intentions behind her choreographic work. By presenting primarily the body in movement, dance was able at last to depict the world and its agonies, to denounce the violence and failings of society, to lay bare the ordeals of human existence. Such are the ambitions of those committed choreographers whose ways of expressing this are sometimes reminiscent of other great modern dance works, in particular those of Pina Bausch. Beyond the message, the strength of their ideas comes from the physical involvement of their performers, completely devoted to their dance, straining to capture the essence of gesture. When it is necessary to take a stand, dance knows no half measures!
Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde ! – Dave Saint-Pierre
Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde ! seems to implore this young lady, hit by her unappeased desire and facing this male who scorns her need to love. Dave Saint Pierre, enfant terrible of the Québec scene exposes amorous behaviours and emotional demands. To do this, he is more than willing to overstep established conventions.
Ha ha ! – Maguy Marin
In this work, Maguy Marin leaves choreographic elements aside in order to launch a more effective attack on this society of entertainment which consumes more than it acts, which enjoys itself rather than getting involved. There is nothing amusing here: it is the spectator’s civic awareness which is being forcefully addressed. And what if, in this parade of frivolous fun, the worrying threat of totalitarianism begins to rear its ugly head?
Le regard de l'autruche - Tino Fernández
In the grip of a civil war, with the regular army set against guerrilla forces, Colombia lives in a climate of tension and fear which weighs heavily on its population. Tino Fernández wished to bear witness to this with his company l'Explose. In this sequence, he convokes strong images which evoke memories of a Pina Bausch work. Here, the choreographer develops a furious dance, sculpted by exhaustion and resistance. Humiliating palpations, stifling yawns, harassing pursuits: the body struggles, suffers. He seeks those disappeared, symbolized by pairs of shoes scattered around the stage.
Waxtaan – Germaine Acogny
Germaine and Patrick Acogny make use of satire to attack the leaders of the African continent. This scene is somewhat reminiscent of Kurt Jooss' La Table verte from 1932. In this opening sequence of Waxtaan, the dancers parody politicians, the powerful men whose great speeches, with their profusion of gestures, provoke only the silence of inaction by way of echo – Waxtaan in Wolof means “endless talk”.
The second sequence of Waxtaan tackles the stereotypes in which Western audiences often trap the African dancer, reduced to the image of the noble savage with rhythm in his blood. But it also allows a glimpse of a more interesting perspective. Prisoner of a blinkered view, the puppet picks up the strings of his destiny and weaves himself an identity in his own way, accommodating borrowings from outside, but remaining rooted in a tremendously rich cultural heritage.
Daddy, I’ve seen this piece six times and I still don’t know why they are hurting each other – Robyn Orlin
Clichés about Africa is a theme dear to South African choreographer Robyn Orlin. The same holds true for racial discrimination, upon which the apartheid regime was founded. In Daddy, I’ve seen this piece six times and I still don’t know why they are hurting each other, classical ballet is identified as an emblem of white supremacy. To have any hope of dancing in the must-of-musts that is Swan Lake, the ballerina has no choice but to hide her original colour. And it is with red, the red of the blood shed by opponents of segregation that the discrepancy in citizenship between Whites and Blacks is brought to an end.
Tempus fugit – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
The utopian wager of a smooth-running multicoloured society is no small challenge. But it is what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the Moroccan-born Belgian choreographer, presents in his work Tempus fugit. In this cosmopolitan chorus, rallied around an apparently unifying song a paternalistic voice breaks in to disrupt the unison. The sentiment of superiority, which underpins colonial imperialism, rises inevitably to the surface. And the former settler reinvests his self-imposed civilizing mission to point out, in professorial tone, the only acceptable style of pronunciation: its own! From paternalism to xenophobia, the choreographer tells us, there is often just a small step, which the character loses no time in taking.
Still /Here - Bill T. Jones
Bill T. Jones devised his work Still /Here based on accounts from AIDS sufferers, collected by the artist during “word and movement” workshops. How can you go on living normally when you know you are condemned? How do you face up to the idea of a timetabled death? These are the kind of questions exorcized by this work, which blends dance, video and text.
Incarnat - Lia Rodrigues
The gripping character of this scene from the Incarnat performance by Incarnat de Lia Rodrigues comes as much from its ambivalence as from its rawness. The Brazilian choreographer chose to show human flesh, in all its bloody reality. At least two readings are possible. The battered body, tortured and the body being born, which must suffer the trial of birth in order to see it. She sees art as an instrument of awareness because, “awareness is the first step on the road to change”, she said.
In more depth
GAUTHIER, Brigitte. Le langage chorégraphique de Pina Bausch. Paris : L'Arche, impr. 2009, cop. 2008. 213 p.
GUILBERT, Laure. Danser avec le III° Reich : les danseurs modernes sous le nazisme. Paris : éd. Complexe, 2000. 448 p. (Librairie de la danse).
HESPEL, Olivier. Robyn Orlin : fantaisiste rebelle. Toulouse : éd. de l’Attribut ; Pantin : Centre national de la danse, DL 2007. 112 p. (Empreintes).
JONES, Bill T., GILLEPSIE, Peggy (collab.), DUMAIS-LVOWSKI, Christian (trad.). Dernière nuit sur terre [Last night of earth]. Arles : Actes Sud, DL 1996, cop. 1997. 310 p. (Librairie de la danse).
ROUSIER, Claire. Etre ensemble : figures de la communauté en danse depuis le XX° siècle. Paris : Centre National de la Danse, 2003. 384 p. (Recherches).
DUPUY, Dominique, (dir.). Danse et politique : démarche artistique et contexte historique, synthèse du séminaire organisé par le Centre national de la danse et le Mas de la danse les 8-12 décembre 2001. Pantin : Centre National de la Danse, 2003. 64 p. (CND Hors Collection).
Anne Décoret-Ahiha is an anthropologist of dance, doctor of Paris 8 University. Speaker, trainer and consultant, she develops proposals around dance as an educational resource and designs participatory processes mobilizing corporeality. She animates the "Warming up of the spectator" of the Maison de la Danse.
Texts and bibliography selection
Maison de la Danse
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