“This is kind of very romantic, but at the end, I would say that Tribute is a love letter to all the dancers who are already dancing in me, and to the ones who will in the future.”
A written conversation between Frédéric Gies and Kerstin Schroth
In Tribute you are opening up your library of dances to the dancers of Weld Company, could you reveal a little more about this library and your thinking behind the piece?
When Anna Koch (artistic director of Weld in Stockholm) proposed me to make a piece for the company, which I follow since its beginning, I started to reflect on what is the project of the company instead of immediately thinking of a piece. Very important aspects of the project of the company are the focus on sharing knowledge and on processes, as well as a connection to diverse areas of the dance field and dance history, through the variety of the dancers backgrounds and of the invited choreographers. The dancers also occupy a central role in the company. The company gives a central place to dance as well, as the headline of its publications suggests: No Talking, No Props. I connect very much to all of this.
Dance is central to my work. This might sound like a redundancy, but I am mentioning it because I think there are a lot of works put under the umbrella of dance, in which the interest lies somewhere else than in dance. Dance being a pretext for something else or even sometimes being absent from it. I am not taking a conservative stance here about what is dance and what is not dance, but I just try to be specific about where the interest lies. I am also mentioning it because in the way I work, the choreography often emerges from the dance, and/or the choreography serves the dance instead of the opposite. Furthermore, being a choreographer has always felt for me like a sort of byproduct of being a dancer.
I also give a lot of importance to processes during creation periods – I see the process as indissociable from the piece, and the connection to dance history is a crucial aspect of most of my pieces. So it became self-evident to share my library of dances as a starting point for the piece, and that this process will be the soil for the choreographic project.
Sharing my library of dances is also acknowledging all my lineages, and all I have learned from other dancers. I have been always fascinated by the amount of knowledge that circulates between dancers when working together, how both skills and aesthetic choices are passed on just by sharing the dance floor. I am fascinated by how this knowledge is then inscribed in our bodies. I am also fascinated by how dances can get inscribed in our bodies just by witnessing them, as a spectator.
My library has different sections. First, I was educated in ballet, then I started to work in the field of contemporary dance in France in 1992 and lived in three different countries throughout my career. So it covers these last three decades of professional experience in different contexts that intersect. It is also infused with historical references previous to my birth and comprises as well dances I witnessed or danced in techno clubs and raves. It is also greatly influenced by my encounter with somatic practices.
I didn’t share my whole library, but I anyway believe that the whole is present underneath the small selection I shared. Concretely, I shared with the dancers a kind of anthology of club dances, a few movements from some of my pieces, and this part of my library that is linked to the beginning of my career in France. In the first years, I danced for choreographers who were former dancers of Dominique Bagouet, who died of AIDS in 1992. I had seen his work for first time a few months before he died. I totally fell in love with his work and the dancers who were on stage. This is still a major influence for me, on so many levels.
This is kind of very romantic, but at the end, I would say that Tribute is a love letter to all the dancers who are already dancing in me, and to the ones who will in the future.
How was it for you to work with a company that brings together choreographers and dancers representing different generations, working methods, and ways of expression?
It has been a very rich process and I think this is linked to what I mentioned above, to how knowledge circulates and is transmitted from body to body when we work together on a dance. This was enhanced by the diversity of the backgrounds. On the other hand, I could also really see how there was a culture of work specific to the company, which probably originate in a need of finding a common ground within the diversity of backgrounds in order to encounter very different choreographers. Working with this company felt pretty much like taking part in a dance nerds gathering. So much curiosity, openness and dedication. I also find so beautiful to see the different layers of the history of each dancer showing through the material I transmitted and through the common ground we defined for this work.
Speaking of finding a common ground: in a way, it has not been that different from what happens in the rest of my work. For me, this is where the work starts in each creation process. I would argue that this is fundamental in every process, but I also think that it became more important to do so nowadays because the conditions of production have changed very much compared to how it was three decades ago. We have way less time for making work, and dancers have to hop from one production to another, each of them requiring very different skills. So as a choreographer, I find very important to share with the dancers the fundamentals of my dance, of my approach to dance.
So as usual, I gave a class almost every mornings. Very old school in a way… I have to say that I find more and more value to this. If you don’t fall into the trap of policing bodies, it is a way of digging further into the roots of a work, of making it more specific and of avoiding merely brushing its surface. This is also a way of honouring the dancers craft, of putting it at the center of the work. It was wonderful how the company took that so seriously, with such a commitment.
Your work brings together different dance forms in a non-hierarchical way, could you elaborate around this?
By this I mean that I don’t give more value to a dance phrase composed by a famous or less famous choreographer, which incorporates a whole choreographic tradition or breaks with one, than to this particular way of dancing of someone I have seen in the darkness of a sweaty dance floor. They are not the same, but to my eyes, one is not more important than the other, from a dance point of view. They are just different manifestations of the act of dancing and I am just passionate about this.
I am also fascinated by unexpected connections between different dance forms, traditional or emerging, and between erudite and popular forms of dance. So I tend to make visible these connections in my dances.
This is also connected to my relationship to forms. For me, forms are not a constraint, but rather possibilities. So I don’t see any hierarchy between a butchy way of club dancing and a grand jeté in ballet. I just see the poetic potential of each of these forms.
At the end, I guess this is very linked to how I understand what dance is. There is this beautiful quote from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, the originator of Body-Mind Centering, about dance: “our primary language is movement. Dance is the poetry of that language”. My interest for bringing together different dance forms in a non-hierarchical way is very linked to this understanding of dance, to dance as a poetic language. It is linked to this capacity of dance to speak, without having to demonstrate anything.
Interview conducted in July/August-September 2020.
Tribute – the library version was presented as part of Moving in November: Traces in November on November 13th and 14th, 2020.
Photo: Thomas Zamolo