Un Bolero departs from the work of Nijinska, the first and only female choreographer of the Ballets Russes. How was the idea to work on her oeuvre born?
In the beginning I did not plan to work on Bronislava Nijinska’s oeuvre in the same exhaustive way as I was able to do with the work of her brother, Vaslav Nijinsky. But to approach only one of her characteristic pieces from her repertoire Les Noces (1923) (The Wedding). Emmanuel Hondré, suggested that I realize this project with the Les Siècles orchestra at the Paris Philharmonic. I was very excited to work on Nijinska’s Les Noces because Bronislava linked her work to the Sacre by her brother Nijinsky. Les Noces has been re-edited many times, the first time in 1966 by Nijinska herself. Since then, this work has been seen regularly in major houses dedicated to the preservation of heritage (Royal Ballet, Paris Opera, etc.) or even more simply as video registration on the internet. The fact that this work can be widely seen and is reproduced often, allowed me to re-examine it by going back to the archives of its creation in 1923, also to add a kind of dramaturgy to Nijinska’s dance. For me, it was important to introduce living tableaux between the Noces‘ tableaux that could problematize the Nocesdance through the prism of its immobility.
The idea to collaborate with François Chaignaud on Nijinska’s Bolero (1928) came later. It was first and foremost a question of repairing a certain form of injustice: that the image of the round table is attributed to the Boléro of Maurice Béjart, although it was Nijinska who invented this scenography for her Boléro. Both works are however a reactivation and interpretation of Nijinska’s dance in two different ways:
- The reconstruction of Le Noces is based on the archives of the time in relation to Nijinska’s work: notations of the choreographer, photographs, drawings, press reviews and testimonies.
- For Un Bolero I developed a creative process, that is more freely and poetically inspired by drawings, photographs from 1928, but also other documents and stories related to the piece.
For this piece you are working with choreographer and dancer François Chaignaud. Could you tell more about the choice to work with him and about the process of working together regarding the creation of this piece?
I knew right away that I wanted to work differently with the Bolero than only digging into the archives. I wished to counter the idea of a Bolero danced by a woman, object of desire for men (Nijinska), or danced by a man, object of desire for women and men (Béjart). I wanted to detract the Bolero, the imperious yoke of the music. With François Chaignaud I had already worked, and I admired his research on voice, chant and Spanish dances. At first, I invited him as dancer and after I proposed to him, that we co-sign the choreography.
Our Bolero derives from the very first Bolero, that was co-signed by Nijinska, Maurice Ravel and Alexandre Benois. We borrow the table and the Spanish dress seen on photographs and drawings which belong to the “Nijinska” collection in the Library of Congress in Washington. But our Bolero also brings out other figures than the ones of Nijinska: La Argentinia, Spanish flamenco dancer, as well as Japanese Butoh choreographers Kazuo Ono and Tatsumi Hijikata. Since La Argentina came to dance in Paris in the 1920s, she might have been a source of inspiration to Nijinska for her Bolero from 1928. Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata for example recognize La Argentina in the 60s through a vibrant choreographic tribute.
Through La Argentina, a contiguous link between Nijinskas work (she belongs to the avant-garde of the 1920s) and Butoh dance is established, which emerges in Japan in the 60s, after the Second World War. In Flamenco as in Butoh, gender is mixed up. Hijika says it very well: “when I dance, it’s my sister who rises in me”.
Flamenco gives the bodies of women and men a similar status: one body embodies both the masculine energy through the strikes of the feet and the feminine energy through the volutes of the upper body and the hands. François Chaignaud cultivates this multiplicity, he is at the same time a man and a woman rejoined in the same body. When we worked in the studio with François, I brought documents that represented these four choreographic figures, allowing him to improvise starting from their gestures and postures. Little by little, thanks to the photographs and images, texts and films, François Chaignaud’s improvisation became clearer and more shaped, as material eligible to be composed. François improvised in a pastel green and bronze tulle dress he had brought to dance in. The dance was more and more structured by letting these four figures appear through a spectral and diffuse way, as the colors of the dress. The dance became more and more structured, allowing these four figures and sources of inspiration (Nijinska, La Argentina, Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata) to shine through in a spectral and diffuse way.
In your work as a choreographer the reconstruction of historical choreographies and dances and the heritage of other choreographers is very present. What are your thoughts and interest in working with this heritage, reconstructing works from the past, keeping the memory and to translate the pieces into our nowadays?
My interest in the rediscovery of our choreographic and musical heritage, does not come from a museum point of view but is driven by finding a connection between the material available in the archives and the performers from today. This is what interests me above all.
I am looking for different approaches that allow me to untie the dances from the past from their historical oral tradition where they are normally locked into. I look at these works from the past with a contemporary gaze and bring them to the light through a work of interpretation, without seeking to “reconstruct” (original temptation) them, but rather “reinvent” them. I question the diversity of the historical sources that documented the works. Also trying to free them from the illusion of authenticity that dominate the discourses around reconstruction in dance. I propose different models – recreation, reconstruction and invention – within the same program to allow the development of tension between the creation of a new work and the reproduction from the past. My intention is to remind, that the link between history and creation should be alive, mobile and constantly updated. To also lay a cornerstone for the future, for those oeuvres where the dances have disappeared.
This interview was conducted around July-August 2021.
Photo: Loic Seron and Laurent Poleo Garnier