Crazy about Dance Boris Charmatz
With Fous de danse, a major choroegraphic project engaging directly with the street and passers-by, Boris Charmatz is working on the reappropriation of public space and the receptiveness of the body.
Boris Charmatz stormed onto the contemporary dance stage in the early 1990s when he was barely twenty years old. After two very well received pieces ( A bras le corps and Les Disparates) created in collaboration with Dimitri Chamblas, he began to develop his own choreographic language, starting with Aatt...enen...tionon (1996). Performed on a three-level metal scaffolding, this highly atypical piece defied the laws of gravity and dared to go (almost) bare with the same selfassurance. In 1997 came Herses (une lente introduction), a spicy piece in which five dancers, three men and two women, naked but bearing a whole artistic heritage, try out new ways of moving and intertwining on an extremely plain stage. Writing in Libération, Marie-Christine Vernay called it “a rendezvous with modernity against conservative forces, including those within contemporary dance.”(1) Combining creative energy and an iconoclastic spirit, Charmatz became a leading figure in the “non-dance” movement, a rather questionable term applied in those years to a new generation of choreographers connected by a common rejection of theatricality and a taste for irreverence. After that Charmatz continued to upend dance norms and test its limits with hybrid works like Eâtre-Elévision ( (2002), an installation-dance for a single spectator lying down on a piano. Since the start of this century he has been giving great importance to the concept of transmission, the relaying of ideas and practices to younger people. One example is the experiment he conducted from 2002-04 with Le Bocal, a traveling school with no permanent facility or teachers.(2) In 2009, he became director of the Centre Chorégraphique National (CCN) in Rennes, transforming it into what became called a Musée de la danse (Dance Museum), a far more living and innovative venue than its name might suggest. With non-normative exhibitions as well as nonnormative dance, the idea was to reconcile creation and transmission by continually expanding the breadth of possibilities.
The truly unprecedented Fous de danse project is typical of what the Musée de la Danse seeks to do. This daylong dance event “brings together, in a single event, various experimental efforts carried out by the museum, particularly exhibitions where the dancer assumes different roles with different statuses (performer, guide, teacher, coach, etc.). Some of the processes activated in the exhibitions will be taken up on a large scale in Fous de danse,” Charmatz explains. The project takes its title from a French dance magazine published in the 1980s by Éditions Autrement. Identifying the main initiatives in the field of dance and offering analytical texts (by Laurence Louppe for example), this review, of which Charmatz was an avid reader, sought to combine the popular and the scholarly approaches, practice and theory, in a dynamic dialectic similar to what would later mark the endeavors of the Musée de la Danse’s director. The project’s title (translatable as “Crazy
About Dance” or “Dance Crazies”) expresses not only a huge thirst for excess but also a less explicit desire to re-enchant contemporary public spaces by banishing the anxiety that has infused them since the bloody terrorist attacks in France that began with the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015. Equally at the heart of danse de nuit (2016), for example, this yearning to reappropriate public spaces for art is an essential part of Charmatz’s work today. “Like many people, I was very marked by the citizens’ assemblies that have proliferated in France and elsewhere,” he says, speaking of the Nuit Debout and Occupy movements, among others. “Rather than directly taking part in them, I wanted the Musée de la Danse to find alternative forms of gatherings where the medium would be not speech but dance. Madness is not, strictly speaking, a component part of Fous de danse. The intention was absolutely not to imitate insanity but to break with the rationality that governs public venues and bring into them a form of artistic expression that passes through the body and makes the participating bodies more permeable to each other.”
While this project is a come-one-come-all occasion, it does not seek consensus at any price and is picky about the dance forms it includes. It’s not a dance festival like France’s annual June 21 Fête de la Musique, which includes many amateurs with widely varied skill sets. Rather, it is artistically exigent, which means, among other things, that there is no attempt to level down by homogenizing different kinds of dance; it includes some kinds that do not necessarily lend themselves to group participation or are less accessible than others. The point is to allow the public to traverse the many states of dance. There are three determinate and concordant principles at work here: horizontality, transversality and free admission. Horizontality means that there are no stages and no rows of seats, breaking the so-called fourth wall to bring about a kind of dance rally where everyone can freely express themselves. This suggests a body-based form of democratic expression. Transversality allows the emergence of a single grand dance lasting several hours, with highly varied components, both amateur and professional, such as collective dances, solos, social dances, traditional dances, urban dance and so on. Free admission is obviously important to make this event accessible to everyone, with no discrimination of any kind. After two such dance days in Rennes (2015 and 2016), one in Brest (May 2017) and one in Berlin (September 2017), Fous de danse is taking place at the Centquatre in Paris on October 1, 2017 as part of the New Settings program. The imposing (pluri-) cultural establishment seems perfectly suitable for this project in that it is meant to be a mixer in every sense of the word, fully alive and literally as open to the world as possible, with a major portion of its spaces freely accessible for the practice of activities such as classic dance, hip-hop, theater, etc. For ten hours, from noon to 10 pm, there will be a steady rhythm of celebration, from a collective warm-up to a festive dancefloor, and in between Roman-Photo (Graphic Novel), choreographed by Maud Le Pladec and Anne-Karine Lescop, with eighteen amateur dances from Rennes; Levée, a collective dance orchestrated by Charmatz (based on his terrific pièce Levée des conflits); Calico Mingling, a piece by Lucinda Childs created by her niece Ruth Childs; repertory dances interpreted by students of the P.A.R.T.S performing arts school in Brussels; a giant Soul Train line dance; urban dances and traditional dances from Brittany. Yet what makes Fous de danse unique is not just the programming but also its mission as a myriad of unique projects shifting from one world to another with no transition or hierarchy. “In a way, this project has gone beyond us,” Charmitz admits. “At any rate, it’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s an invitation to a whole city.”
Translation, L-S Torgoff
Boris Charmatz Né en 1973. Vit et travaille à Rennes. 2010 Levée des conflits, pièce pour 24 danseurs 2011 enfant, création pour la cour d’honneur du Palais des Papes, Avignon 2014 Manger, création à la Ruhrtriennale - International Festival of the Arts 2014 2016 danse de nuit, création à La Bâtie-Festival de Genève (New Settings #6)