Skip to main content
Back to themas

Strange works

2018 - Director : Plasson, Fabien

Choreographer(s) : Nikolaïs, Alwin (United States) Chopinot, Régine (France) Robbe, Hervé (France) Brown, Trisha (United States) Larrieu, Daniel (France) Charmatz, Boris (France) Bourgeois, Yoann (France) Nadj, Josef (Hungary) Petton, Luc (France)

en fr


Nikolaïs, Alwin (United States)



Chopinot, Régine (France)



Brown, Trisha (France)


La Danseuse malade

Charmatz, Boris (France)


Fugue / Trampoline

Bourgeois, Yoann (France)


Les Corbeaux

Nadj, Josef (France)


The spectator's moment (2015): Luc Petton

Petton, Luc (France)

Strange works

2018 - Director : Plasson, Fabien

Choreographer(s) : Nikolaïs, Alwin (United States) Chopinot, Régine (France) Robbe, Hervé (France) Brown, Trisha (United States) Larrieu, Daniel (France) Charmatz, Boris (France) Bourgeois, Yoann (France) Nadj, Josef (Hungary) Petton, Luc (France)

Author : Centre national de la danse

en fr



A dance performance generally unites dancers and spectators using music, lights, costumes and stage design. Other elements can be added: musicians playing live, video, interactive technologies, text, visual installations etc.

In contemporary dance, performance and choreographic representations have taken on multiple forms. In the tradition of the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and the American dance of the 1960s, many contemporary choreographers reinvent the concept of the performance itself and that of representation while playing with their various components. They try out new relationships to the stage, questioning many elements of the performance and immersing themselves in new practices.

For the last forty years or so, the borders of what is “dance” have continually been pushed back, a phenomenon, which can also be seen in the other arts. “Strange performances” appear. 

This thema offers a video selection which explores the distinctive worlds of some performances which are atypical thanks to their stage or visual device (Crucible, KOK), their “multi-media” dimension (Mutating score), because they take place in unusual places (Waterproof) or on surprising surfaces (Planes), or even because they use unusual performers, not necessarily even dancers (Cavale, Les Corbeaux) or make things dance… a truck, like in La Danseuse malade.



1. Strange devices


The choreographer Alwin Nikolaïs (1910-1993) frequently created stage devices which allowed the visual dimension of dance to be renewed: long elastic ribbons which weave the stage space into an immense moving cobweb, costumes and accessories which distort the shape of the body of the dancer, slide projections which create optical illusions… In Crucible, the spectator sees only part of the body of the dancers which is reflected in a horizontally placed mirror. A finger redoubled by its reflection thus becomes a strange form, as does an arm or a leg. Multiple creatures that come to life, interact and create a crazy world now emerge. The performance exists on the fringes of dance, around the mirror plays so popular in the Renaissance era and kinetic art.


KOK was inspired by the world of boxing. In a revolving boxing ring, five performers recreate an unusual fight. The four boxer-dancers and a referee-actor dance their confrontation, in a burlesque manner. They engage in a real physical contest while playing with rules which they divert resolutely. The choreographer Régine Chopinot refined her choreographic writing in accordance with the square shape of the boxing ring and its space, which is more restricted than the usual stage space. The movements and positions of boxing in a double parody nourish the choreography: that of sport and that of dance. 

Mutating Score 

Many other choreographers have wanted to use new technologies in their creations. Hervé Robbe imagined Mutating Score “as a hybrid choreographic project presented in the shape of a device with which the audience interacts.” His process of writing “questions the possible relationships between dance, music, image and technological tools”. In the performance, the images are manufactured in real time and the spectator is placed inside the device. The actions carried out in “technological real time” question the reality of the dance and the virtual nature of the image. Moreover, everything that happens is subject to variation; the “performance" thus becomes a new presentation, different each time to what came before.


In Planes, the theatre space attempts to become vertical! “Three performers traverse the surface of the wall in slow motion, giving the illusion of falling through space” explains Trisha Brown in reference to this creation[1]. A wall, bored with holes, in effect constitutes the stage space on which a film of aerial images is also projected. Jud Yalkut, director of the film, sought “to conceive the theatre as vertical tunnel in which the audience is suspended in planes of rows”. Planes shift the perception of spatial reference points by changing the points of support of the movement and how it is seen. 


Dancers often dream of air, of Icarus and of flying. But they also like to fall into water, to plunge and to float. Daniel Larrieu created Waterproof for a swimming pool. The dancers move in water, on its surface and at the edge of the pool. It is a true physical challenge for them. Cameras capture what happens under water while the spectators watch a strange performance where the fish pirouettes, the dancer activates his gills and the swirls and eddies of the water have rhythm. In a sense, this choreography takes up and revamps the nautical ballet of the American musicals. But Waterproof is also “a piece with echoes of war, conflict and combat, here with a liquid element, a manner of breathing, of taking air, of guiding the movement”. This creation is also part of “a particular time for French contemporary dance which adapts public places and transforms them into performance spaces. Working intensely in an aquatic environment led to experimentation with unusual fields, and to the discovery of another use of the senses, another way of moving.”[2]

La Danseuse malade

Let's imagine a truck on a stage. It's not really that strange! But if the truck starts to spin around, a movie star drives it frantically and a dancer finds himself being catapulted, it becomes La Danseuse malade. In this piece, Boris Charmatz works with the actress Jeanne Balibar. At one point, what happens inside the truck is filmed live and projected on the outside of the vehicle. It is an astonishing scene where we can simultaneously see the container and the contents. The truck zigzags around the stage and the image of Boris Charmatz dancing follows, in a highly virtuosic manner, the course of the truck as if we could see through the mobile walls. The choreographer used texts by Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of Butoh dance, uttering them without illustrating them. “The force of his writings, which should be read, leaves us free to carry them in the gesture itself”[3] explains the choreographer. It results in a curious performance, which brings to mind another truck, from the film by Marguerite Duras where the star is Gérard Depardieu, the writer her protagonist, and the truck a tool for multiple trips[4]. The improbable meeting of different worlds also concerns contemporary creation.

2. Strange performers 


The performers are the very heart of any choreographic creation. When they come from another field than that of dance, they bring other techniques and other ways of working with them. In Cavale, the circus artist Yoann Bourgeois works with falling, bouncing and flying. Falling is one of the movements that has been developed by contemporary dance. But when an elastic surface replaces the floor and makes the performer bounce, the fall is prolonged by astonishing suspensions and a resumption of a different verticality. “This duet with Mathurin Bolze triggers, through the dizziness, an eternal dimension of the ephemeral.”[5] Many choreographic performances call on performers whose physical practice does not deal only with dance – like Yoann Bourgeois, the “acrobat, actor, juggler, dancer, but above all, a player”[6].

Les Corbeaux

Creators are infinitely versatile! In Les Corbeaux, the choreographer Josef Nadj dances, draws, paints and plays with materials. Sometimes, he also makes sounds with the musician Akosh Szelevényi. The two performers are inspired by ravens in a performance where the physical dimension of painting and musical interpretation echoes the plastic dimension of the dance. At one point, Josef Nadj coats his nose in black paint so it looks like a bird's beak. But this then becomes a kind of brush, which allows the choreographer to draw a motif on a large piece of white paper. This creation questions tracks, desired or not, human or animal, readable or indecipherable. It is both a dance proposal, a live concert and a multimedia performance. 

La minute du spectateur – Luc Petton

The performers in a dance work are usually dancers, but also pseudo boxers, actors, circus artists, mobile sculptures, a truck etc. They can be also birds – real ones. This is the case with the dancer Luc Petton, a keen ornithologist who in 1999 also choreographed, for karate world champions, his piece Polemos – du duel au duo. He threatens the dancer's dream of flying by confronting it with the reality of the bird. One flies and the other does not; so the dancer becomes the branch, the support and above all the accomplice of the animal. In La confidence des oiseaux, thirty birds (jays, starlings, magpies and crows) dance with four dancers. In Swan, the dance partners are swans. Who knew birds could dance? 


[1] Description of Planes (1968) - (translation G. Fontaine)

[2] Description of Waterproof -

[3] Description of La danseuse malade -

[4] Le Camion, film directed by Marguerite Duras in 1977


[6] Ibidem


The Centre national de la danse (CN D) is a national art center dedicated to dance. It’s an instititution dependent on the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and devoted to dance in all its aspects: the promotion of shows and choreographers, the dissemination of choreographic culture, artistic creation, and pedagogy.


Extracts selection
Centre national de la danse


Centre national de la danse

Maison de la Danse

The "Strange shows" Parcours was created thanks to the support of the General Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture and Communication - Department for the Coordination of Cultural Policies and Innovation (SCPCI) 

Your opinion interests us
By accessing the website, you acknowledge and accept the use of cookies to assist you in your browsing.
You can block these cookies by modifying the security parameters of your browser or by clicking onthis link.
I accept Learn more