by Donald Hutera
Didier Deschamps, artistic director of France’s Ballet de Lorraine, has chosen an excellent triple-bill for his company’s Umbrella 2002 programme and UK debut. The unifying link between all three pieces is American master choreographer Merce Cunningham. “As an ex-dancer I feel very close to his work,” Deschamps remarks. That Cunningham is the Ballet de Lorraine evening’s creative lynch-pin makes sense, given that his own eponymous troupe kicks off this year’s Umbrella with a world premiere at the Barbican Theatre.
Made in 1980 and set to percussive music by John Cage, Cunningham’s Duets is composed of six duets, each bridged by a brief entrance and exit by one of the other couples. It’s structurally simple, yes, but full of the complex, human beauty viewers can readily discover in his movement.
Karole Armitage, who danced in Cunningham’s company 1976-80, fashioned Le Chat de Schrödinger expressly for Ballet de Lorraine. It features two dozen dancers and lasts about as many minutes.
The title is derived from quantum physics. However, she’s using it “as an image to describe a state of the universe that is personal to me. I see the world as being made of chance and happenstance. It’s also made of patterns which are replicated and echoed throughout the cosmos. Each human being has its own inclination, its own choreography, its own grace within this pattern.
“We’re live by forces that we don’t understand,” Armitage continues, “both in our most intimate experiences as well as in larger ones.” Amplifying this notion, she has the dancers don masks “to invoke the idea of the limits of knowledge and vision. They enter and exit in a mixture of themes and variations, have encounters and then new ones.
They’re both the grace and the unpredictability
that is the human experience.”
Deschamps has his own take on Armitage’s work: “It’s a matter of speed, being out of balance, feeling the energy as an extreme. This piece requires a real and strong virtuosity. The dancers experiment with the notion of risk in different ways.”
Early in her career, French dance-maker Mathilde Monnier studied at Cunningham’s Manhattan studio. She also worked closely with the late, great Cunningham dancer Viola Farber. In 1986 she teamed with Jean-Francois Duroure to make Mama, Monday, Sunday or Always for Lyon Opera Ballet.
In this work, says Deschamps, “the universe is
more narrative. The dancers have to play parts.
The characters are in a film studio just after
the shooting, and it turns into a kind of thriller.
It’s very poetic, with some funny moments.”
Deschamps has headed Ballet de Lorraine since 2000. He says he tries to maintain a hands-on approach, working with the dancers in the studio as much as possible. They represent a mix of nationalities typical of contemporary companies: two Russians, two Bulgarians, one Pole, a Brazilian, one from England and so on. The company is run democratically. “There’s no hierachy,” says Deschamps, “no ‘first’ dancer, nor a corps de ballet. Almost every one is able to dance all the repertory. I push everybody in that direction. It’s the best way for each to show their own qualities. I don’t really care if a dancer is tall or small. I’m looking for a good technical level, particularly in ballet, and a strong artistic feeling. I try to check if a dancer is really open to all kinds of dances, contemporary as well as classical, and if they’re able to develop a good attitude in a group.”
WHO: BALLET DE LORRAINE
WHAT: DUETS / MAMA, MONDAY, SUNDAY OR ALWAYS / LE CHAT DE SCHRÖDINGER
WHEN: WED 30 - THU 31 OCT
WHERE: QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
TICKETS: 020 7960 4242
This interview was posted by Stuart Sweeney on behalf of Donald Hutera and first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.
Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.
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