Latest blog by Nick Minns

Latest blog by Nick Minns

In September I wrote about the two weeks when these five choreographers began creating together in Cardiff. I argued that the beginning of any creative process is the artist’s own life that searches for a form in which to mould the idea on to a body or bodies. Contemporary dance, unlike ballet, comprises an infinite number of ideas in search of an infinite number of forms that take their inspiration as much from an everyday movement vocabulary as from what we consider ‘dance technique’.

In these five works, the subject matter is very personal and so is the form of each dance. I found during Dance Roads that getting to know each choreographer led me to an appreciation of their respective works, an appreciation that resides as much on the personal level as on formal aesthetics or philosophical research; the gift of dance is the opening up of our lives to receive it.

Sarah Bronsard had performed a work called 4 Kilos in her native Montreal; her subject was the life of the cicada, its evolution from a long period of gestation to its brief, resonant outing in the sunshine before dying. She became pregnant soon after the performance and gave birth to Adrien who was 4 months old when he accompanied her during the initial creative period. The work she wanted to create for Dance Roads was a sequel to 4 Kilos not in its formal structure or thought (though related) but in the light of her subsequent pathway of motherhood.

The starting point of Jo Fong’s work was twofold: a desire to open herself up to other people and an exploration of the fragile relationship between performers and audience. Her mind is constantly questioning the status quo. Her earliest work was made on such a small scale that only one person could see it at a time, and there is still that intimacy in the way she works. She is her work, and Laura Lee Greenhalgh and Beth Powlesland are not only responsive to her way of working but represent different characteristics of Jo: her comical sense of the absurd and a dream-like sense of beauty.

Perhaps one can read too much into the life of a choreographer but I could not help make a connection between the serious accident that Andrea Gallo Rosso suffered as a teenager when a car hit him with the compassion and fragility he expresses in his work and in his working process with Manolo Perazzi. Having had to challenge the frailty of his body and to stimulate its capacity to heal, he works with great patience and respect for the body and the person. He also brings into the studio five years of research in bio-medical physics: he experiments with movement until he gets the result he wants. There is a cultural depth to his work as well: he filters what for me is quintessentially Italian — commedia del’arte, Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves, photographs by Richard Avedon of the street performer Zazi and I Pagliacci — into a living, contemporary form.

Jasper van Luijk was an accomplished ballroom dancer who subsequently studied philosophy at university and was quickly drawn in to contemporary dance. All these elements are present in his work: his sense of the flow of movement, the philosophical exploration of withdrawal, death and mourning, and the formal use of the well-trained and responsive bodies of his dancers to shape one movement into another. I was constantly amazed at how quickly he seized on a solution to a choreographic problem; he knows what he wants, and knows how to achieve it.

Teilo Troncy studied theatre in Bordeaux before moving to Holland to train in dance. His approach to choreography is quite different from van Luijk’s; through his own developing state of curiosity, he is like a coach or a guide researching the inner states that he wants to manifest on stage, a delicate and fragile task both for himself and his muse, Pauline Buenerd, in which he perseveres with the utmost sincerity. I found a book in Cardiff, a translation of Jean-Louis Barrault’s Réflexions sur le Théâtre and in it I came across Barrault’s definition of subjective mime, which could very well refer to Troncy’s work: ‘the study of the states of the soul translated into bodily expression. The metaphysical attitude of man in space.’

There was a sharing of all five choreographers at the end of the two weeks that summed up the first stage in the birth of the five works. For the next eight months the choreographers were left to develop and shape their works to the point of performance. Emmanuel Grivet, who had mentored each choreographer over two weeks in Cardiff tried to meet each one over the eight months to see how the work was progressing. From seeing the works in Cardiff recently it is clear that they have all changed, some more than others. Van Luijk’s Quite Discontinuous looks deceptively like a new work. There are two major changes: he has had to rehearse Mitchell Lee van Rooij to replace Luca Cacitti which creates a new dynamic between the two men and the production values have been enhanced to create a finely tuned work. Van Luijk is on familiar ground: he is working with a composer he is used to and a production house that he knows. It is a poetic work about death, but it is mature beyond Van Luijk’s age and of all the works it is the most finished ‘product’. Strictly speaking this was a re-creation rather than a creation.

Bronsard returned to Montreal after the first two weeks with very little known about the new work but with an increased confidence in her ability to find the right form. Once back in Montreal she was fortunate to meet a musician, Jonathan Parant, who could create the kind of sound installation she had imagined and her project began to develop alongside the score. The work you see here is entirely different from what she showed in Cardiff in September but follows the path she had traced of casting off the old and embracing the new. Just as she lived her creative process with her son, her work embodies the changes she has made in her life since then. She takes you on her journey. Can we simply say she was fortunate to meet Jonathan, that this was a coincidence? Or can we glimpse the deep inner workings of the creative conscience at work? And if so, what does that mean in our understanding of creative process? Not simply, I think, the physical manifestation of an idea but the openness of the creator’s life to the very possibilities that will make his or her work complete. Ce qui emerge après is an appropriate title suggesting a new birth, a new beginning.

Gallo Rosso’s work, I Meet You…If You Want, has changed but its early processes are visible. He has worked with the formal and dynamic elements, a ludic mix of Commedia del’Arte and psychological physical theatre. Like Bronsard he is performing in his own work, but Bronsard takes her own story and makes it visible, whereas Gallo Rosso is working like a sculptor in front of his stone. He cannot see it, so he has to feel when it is right. This is a predominantly tactile work, an elastic connection between the two performers that breaks and reconnects, as if the two bodies cannot break away for any length of time. The title perfectly describes the unresolved nature of the relationship.

We come to Troncy and Fong. Here are two works that have very little formal content because their point of departure is the relationship between performer and audience: the onlooker is an integral part of the performance. Each time these works are performed the performers enter into an entirely new relationship with the audience that in turn alters the way they perform. Fong’s work, aptly called Dialogue – a Double Act plays with this relationship and is most successful when there is an investment from the audience in the work (in Bordeaux the audience helped the performers with their French translation!). The creative process is thus never finished; it must be ever present to keep the nature of the performance alive. It is like street theatre transposed on to a stage. Troncy’s work, Je ne suis pas permanent, requires an extraordinary presence of mind from his performer and muse, Pauline Buenerd, as she explores the freedom to perform such simple actions as smelling, seeing, touching and hearing. Troncy takes the audience inside the performer and as such it is perhaps the most fragile of the works in Dance Roads: the necessary imposition of a beginning and ending and the requirement of the theatre stage are constraints that frame the work uncomfortably.

Although these works, because of their different approach, do not constitute an easy program, there is a relationship between the performers that comes from the friendship and shared values that were created during that initial two-week creative session in Cardiff. It is hard to know how different the works might have been without this initial joint process, but I feel what we are seeing, apart from the five quite different works, is an open sharing amongst friends of five very personal stories.