Paris in the 1980s
I reblogged “A Short History of Dance in my Life” which describes my entry into this strange new land but not the origins of the international path which I was suddenly following.
Connecting dance to place started for me in France. I actually cannot remember how I first started looking intensively and extensively at French dance. Being enthralled with Paris and every French sight/taste/nuance, which was all fairly new to me, certainly helped. I was presenting a range of performing arts at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque New Mexico and in the process meeting and being guided by the NYC contemporary dance sophisticates and international travelers and French dance was hot at the time.
It was magical. Paris is a very special place in all ways and what a grand thing, to be sitting at a sidewalk café with your cigarettes and café au lait or wine, gazing just over there at the Eiffel Tower and listening to the elegant sounds of the French language all around. Increasingly the talk was of dance…contemporary dance treasured and supported by the French government. Imagine that!
The choreographers and companies I remember most clearly are Dominique Bagouet, Angelin Preljocaj/Ballet Preljocaj (who was here for Global DanceFest’s grand 2001 opening), Maguy Marin, Mathilde Monnier, Josef Nadj and of course the American transplant, Carolyn Carlson. There were others but with an array like that who needed more. I was enthralled and curious.
I so lacked background in American contemporary dance, or dance of any kind for that matter, that being introduced to new work in a new country was like entering a different reality. I had no references; when my friends and mentors related what they were seeing back to the founders and stars of “modern” dance in America and Europe I was the clueless bystander.
What I did know was that—given the limited American dance I had seen in New Mexico (extremely limited) and at the conferences and showcases I was attending around the country—I was more enamored of what I was seeing in France. Why the greater interest was the question.
It took me awhile to develop an answer that suited me. The dance in France was a little less about technique and pure movement and more about things/stuff/stories/ideas. It also seemed a little more confrontive, maybe a little rawer, a little sexier, more original somehow? And the program was one coherent piece, not three pretty dances of 10 to 20 minutes each. I loved it all. Indiscriminately.
I immediately began trying to analyze what about French culture, history or geography had produced those differences. I know…I know… I know. My learned dance friends can trace it all to various choreographic/artistic movements and influences. Which is true and accurate and informed. But I wasn’t interested in that, what I wanted to figure out was what about being French was showing up on stage. Of course there was no answer that made sense.
But here’s what I decided. France has a proud intellectual history so why wouldn’t that be reflected in their dance as well as in other cultural pursuits—dance of ideas? France has a long history as a colonial power so why wouldn’t their experience of other cultures make more story, more nuance possible in their dance—dance more worldly. France is known as a nation of diverse sensual appetites—why wouldn’t their dance reflect that sensuality. This was an answer that made sense. To me at least.
That was all over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve seen American dance take on all of those characteristics to some degree, and I have no idea what is happening with French dance. But that line of questioning is what propelled me down the track of forever analyzing contemporary dance based on the broadest of cultural, environmental, historical and political influences. For better or worse.