Photo: Estelle Hanania
Photo: Estelle Hanania
Photo: Mathilde Darel
Interview with Gisèle Vienne
What motivates your work as a choreographer?
At the very heart of my work, is the question of perception, what we’ve been trained to hear and see and not to hear and see. These perceptive frames can be different in time and space, and they say a lot about how we structurally build up a society and relations of powers. But how can we, through art, work on shifting these perceptive frames, make them visible and work structurally on our societies? Art has a very strong role to play here and becomes very political when it questions these perceptive frames.
I’m very interested in how we’ve been educated not to read or listen to the nonverbal. What the body says is actually very clear. It’s not mysterious, not abstract. I do not consider dance as being abstract. I see people and the quality of movement, what is said in silence, what is said through the body, what is also said through the body in space – if I’m moving, if I’m working, if my body is positioned this or that way, it says a lot already on a psychological, personal and social level. This is what is most exciting from my perspective. What I try to do with choreography is participate in this perceptive shift, try to understand and listen to what people say when they’re not speaking. My work is motivated by this research, by this deep structural work on society, trying to make it more equal. Looking at the mechanisms of power and violence from a structural perspective and how they can be changed. It all starts with perceptive frames and gazes.
How did the idea for Crowd come about?
I spent a few years researching The Rite of Spring, which was very inspired by Russian pagan rituals. There were many things that the Paris audience could recognise in 1913, when Nijinsky, Roerich and Stravinsky premiered the work, but the audience were also very offended, because this type of dance was not supposed to be in a theatre on the Champs-Élysées. This displacement of popular culture in a bourgeois theatre was very shocking. I think it’s very interesting to focus on what we recognise globally as high art and low art; what is the hierarchy of arts, and what is the meaning behind that.
With Crowd, I was looking for a celebration from the late 20th century, early 21st century in Europe. I decided to focus on techno culture because I’m very interested in alternative cultures or countercultures. These spaces, where new generations try to invent a new world, these are the most alive places to me. In these countercultures, or street cultures, there are amazing choreographic inventions, amazing ideas, it’s creative in so many aspects. House, hip-hop, krumping, voguing, all these extremely smart, sophisticated, great ways of dancing that would not be considered high culture, end up being adapted by the mainstream culture and emptied of their original content. High culture and popular culture should be in dialogue, there should be no hierarchy.
What is the importance of time and emotion in Crowd?
Time is very central in the work. Crowd tries, in a formal way, to unfold the experience of the layers of time that exist in the experience of the present. The past is not somewhere in the past. The experience of past is present, it is a moving entity. The anticipated future is present, as well. How can I imagine a choreography that unfolds this overlap of all these different layers of time, visibly in the present experience of the performance? You can see an overlap of rhythms in Crowd, from the music, to the light, and in the choreography itself. You can perceive rhythmical overlaps, through the space, music, lights and bodies, all of which creates different layers of the experience of the present time. Dancers can be in different qualities of rhythm in one moment, or they can stretch, condense and edit the time in the chronological unfolding. Understanding the experience of time in the present time is also questioning perception.
I think it’s a very emotional, sensitive piece that also deals with how emotions can change our perceptions, and our perception of time. Sometimes one moment can be very stretched, sometimes a long moment can be very condensed, following the logic of the sensitive perception of time.
Crowd is also an investigation of emotions, from very sensitive to very loving, to very careful, to very funny, to very playful, to more self-reflective, to more hard or violent. I think it’s very interesting to consider that emotions are changing your way of viewing things. If I’m calm, I see things in a certain way. If I’m angry, I see them in a different way, my attention is focused differently. Likewise if I’m in love… Emotions have a strong impact on the way we perceive things.
I love philosophy, the philosophical experience comes from the body. For example, if I’m upset, I need to understand why something feels wrong. I have a physical input for thinking. It’s very important to be able to express emotions, to be upset, to be angry, to be hurt, and to understand that these are important and meaningful reactions that are part of the thinking process. The body and emotions are the roots to thinking. They make me think, make me move. Moving is choreography. That’s why I think choreography is such an amazing thinking place.
What does Crowd tell us about love and desire?
When I feel in love, I have another type of awareness of my surroundings. Crowd investigates the physicality of my perception of love, this super precise, stimulating and sensitive awareness that comes out of love. The slowness in Crowd reflects very much my feeling of love.
It’s a very powerful topic, to understand how sensuality and desire are encoded, and it’s also political. We can see how capitalism builds up a strong desirability for capitalism. Capitalism has created industries like Hollywood that make miserable things desirable. Art, architecture, choreography, so many disciplines, can work for the desirability of a political system. We have a huge responsibility for where we create desire, what it means to create desire in this place rather than that one. The body, the choreography, the dancing, the whole desirability and sensuality that goes with the experience, are key experiences in the political system. We work on desirability that aims for intelligence, equality and respect.
How was the casting and training process for Crowd?
The casting took over two years of workshop auditions. I was looking for very open minded, talented dancers because, for most of them, I use different ways of moving.
I work with Anja Röttgerkamp, who knows how to train people in the technique of moving fascia, helping the dancers to be grounded and move globally. We also do meditation and specific exercises that work on different rhythmicalities, the quality of the movement, and that help tune the 15 characters in the same quality, because synchronicity is very important.
For 23 years, we’ve been developing a vocabulary of retouched movements inspired by movie editing techniques, special effects and human avatars, like puppets or video game characters. This vocabulary includes the slow-motion quality of movement that is very specific in Crowd.
We also exchange ideas and stories, constantly adapting the work over time. Even if the piece seems the same as when it was premiered in 2017, many things have changed, on all levels. It seems to me that a performance is like a growing plant, a moving body that we’re taking care of, feeding with physical practice and exchange through discussion and questions.
The other quality I was looking for is people that are very respectful and kind, people that are very good in a group. I wanted to create characters based on archetypes inspired by memories of my time in Berlin. It’s a very personal piece for me, a personal experience of music, space, love, and friendship. The casting was quite subjective. I wanted to work with people that reminded me of these past and present stories. These personal memories work also as collective memories.
How did you create the characters we see in Crowd?
We worked on a story for each dancer. They would start to write stories themselves and then we worked with Dennis Cooper. It was a collaboration. Some stories are closer to their lives, some are more distant. But they are all custom-made.
I also thought a lot about the costumes. We tried to make them fit the dancers from a sociological, emotional and narrative perspective. Everything is somehow very sensitive and close to them, but also fiction. The audience doesn’t need to know what is personal or fictional. That’s what I like about fiction. It allows you to be very intimate and to keep your intimacy at the same time.
It’s a very intimate piece for the performers, but I also hope to make a piece that’s very intimate for the audience. I often hear from the audience, that they recognise their own experiences and feelings in Crowd, that there is space for themselves, for self-reflection. When you’re watching Crowd it touches your body as an audience. I hope that Crowd can be a personal story for everyone, a story that can be approached with personal memories, desires, wishes, and become a very intimate experience for all of us, a different experience for all of us.
How did the music and choreography come together?
I worked mainly with Peter Rehberg but also with Stephen O’Malley. As the band KTL, they wrote some original music. With Peter, we also worked on the music selection, the DJ set. Peter had an amazing knowledge of electronic music history and a fabulous library. It was also very important for us to quote existing music with a significant place in electronic music history – from Manuel Göttsching to Underground Resistance, the Detroit scene. There is also a lot of information in the music in terms of colour, dynamics, rhythmicality, politics and history, so it has a major influence on the choreography. If I consider the piece in a pure musical way, then choreography, space-design, light-design, is all part of the musical composition. What is the sound and the music of the space, of the light, of the choreography, of the clothes, of the colours? Every expression can also be analysed from different perspectives: music, choreography, philosophy, politics. I need to analyse all these aspects in all the mediums that are composing the piece. It’s all co-related. In my working process, I need to constantly shift my way of seeing to be able to get different viewing angles.
How does being a woman affect your work and the way that your work is received?
Being a woman for me is a cultural construct. I cannot identify myself with this because the way a woman is thought of in our cultures is degrading. However, I’m recognised and was raised as a woman. This social construction has a huge impact on my life. Through my work I try to move away from the restrictive, violent shape of normativity.
I’m very lucky to be where I am. But the inequality of resources is still shockingly unfair. In Sao Paulo, with Crowd, we did the opening of an amazing festival on a big stage, and they said, “Oh, you’re the first woman doing the opening of the festival!” But if you want to see women on big stages, opening festivals, they also need to have the resources to create these large-scale pieces. I’m still an exception in my field. I manage to be self-confident enough to say, “Yes, what I do is meaningful” despite my doubts. My social surrounding also helped of course. Many women don’t feel this confident.
As a woman, I had to impose myself to be where I am. This space was not given to me, as a woman. I do it with humour, though, as it’s so absurd, and with rage because it’s so unfair, but also with lots of joy because it’s such an inspiring place to be. I really hope it can be encouraging for other women, that it can help them feel they can legitimately take more space in arts.
- Conception, Choreography and Scenography Gisèle Vienne
- Assisted by Anja Röttgerkamp Nuria Guiu Sagarra
- LightingPatrick Riou
- Dramaturgy Gisèle Vienne Dennis Cooper
Music selection (in order of appearance)
Underground Resistance: The Illuminator (Underground Resistance, 1995)
KTL: Lampshade (exclusive, 2017)
Vapour Space: Gravitational Arch Of 10 (Plus 8, 1993)
DJ Rolando: Vibrations mix (Underground Resistance, 2002)
- Underground Resistance: Sweat Electric (Somewhere In Detroit, 1994)
- Underground Resistance: Twista (Underground Resistance, 1993)
- Drexciya: Wavejumper (Underground Resistance, 1995)
- The Martian: The Intruder (Red Planet, 1992)
- Underground Resistance: Code Red (Underground Resistance, 1993)
- Underground Resistance: Lunar Rhythms (Somewhere In Detroit, 1995)
- Underground Resistance: Hi-Tech Fun (Underground Resistance, 1997) Choice: Acid Eiffel (Fragile Records, 1992) Jeff Mills: Phase 4 (Tresor/Axis, 1992) Peter Rehberg: Furgen Matrix/Telegene (exclusive, 2017) Manuel Göttsching: E2-E4 (Inteam, 1984) Sun Electric: Sarotti (R&S Records, 1993) Global Communication: 14 31 (Ob-selon Mi-Nos) (Evolution, 1994)
- Edits, Playlist selection Peter Rehberg
- Sound Diffusion Supervisor Stephen O’Malley
- Performers Lucas Bassereau Philip Berlin Morgane Bonis Sylvain Decloitre Sophie Demeyer Vincent Dupuy Massimo Fusco Rehin Hollant Oskar Landström Maeva Lassere Theo Livesey Maya Masse Katia Petrowick Linn Ragnarsson Jonathan Schatz
- Costumes Gisèle Vienne in collaboration with Camille Queval and the performers
- Sound Engineer Adrien Michel
- Technical Manager Erik Houllier
- Stage Manager Antoine Hordé
- Light Manager Samuel Dosière
- Production & Touring Alma Office Anne-Lise Gobin Camille Queval Andrea Kerr
- Administration Cloé Haas Giovanna Rua
- Producers DACM Company Gisèle Vienne
- Co-producers Nanterre-Amandiers, Centre Dramatique National Maillon, Théâtre de Strasbourg – Scène européenne Wiener Festwochen Manège, Scène Nationale – Reims Théâtre National de Bretagne Centre Dramatique National Orléans-Loiret-Centre La Filature, Scène Nationale – Mulhouse BIT Teatergarasjen, Bergen, Norway
- Support CCN2 – Centre Chorégraphique National de Grenoble and CND Centre National de la Danse The Company Gisèle Vienne is supported by DRAC Grand Est, la Région Grand Est – Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication and Ville de Strasbourg. The company is supported by the Institut Français for international touring and by Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels. Gisèle Vienne is an associated artist at Chaillot – Théâtre national de la danse, MC2 Grenoble, Le Volcan – Scène nationale du Havre and Théâtre National de Bretagne.
- Special Thanks Louise Bentkowski Dominique Brun Zac Farley Uta Gebert Etienne Hunsinger Margret Sara Guðjónsdóttir Isabelle Piechaczyk Richard Pierre Arco Renz Jean-Paul Vienne Dorothéa Vienne-Pollak
About the Artist
Photo: Karen Paulina Biswell
Conception, Choreography, Scenography and Dramaturgy
French-Austrian artist, choreographer and director Gisèle Vienne graduated in Philosophy and studied Puppeteering at the L'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette. Over the past 20 years, Vienne has created works inspired by human behaviour, ecstatic ritual and fantasy, which she has toured in Europe, Asia and the USA. In 2020, she collaborated with Etienne Bideau-Rey on a fourth version of her 2001 work Showroomdummies at the Rohm Theater Kyoto. Recent work includes the film Jerk and the show L’Etang. Vienne has exhibited her photographs and installations in several museums, including the Whitney Museum, New York and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
About Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels
Profoundly attached to the world of dance since its origins, the High Jewelry Maison strengthens its commitment with Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels.
Guided by the values of creation, transmission and education, this initiative aims to support artists and institutions in presenting choreographic heritage, while also promoting new productions.
Since its launch in 2020, it has promoted numerous dance companies for their creations as well as the presentation of multiple performances around the world.
The program is complemented each year by major events, including the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival, whose first edition took place in London in March 2022.
This support further extends to awareness-raising actions focused on dance culture for the broadest possible audience, professionals and amateurs alike.
About French May Arts Festival
Established in 1993, French May is one of the largest cultural events in Asia. With more than 100 programmes presented across two months, it has become an iconic part of Hong Kong's cultural scene that reaches over 200 thousand visitors each year. The objectives of French May are to touch everything, to be everywhere and for everyone.
To touch everything by showcasing the most diversified art forms: from heritage and contemporary arts, paintings and design, to classical music and hip-hop dance, cinema and circus.
To be everywhere by bringing performances to various venues and districts, including the unusual and unexpected: from cultural centres and shopping malls to public spaces, the racecourse and Victoria Harbour.
For everyone, because the Festival aims to reach out to the entire community by developing educational programmes, talks, guided tours, workshops and masterclasses, including those that directly benefit the young and less privileged.
For 30 years, French May has been both truly international and distinctly local and wishes to contribute to the unique appeal of Asia's World City. The French May Arts Festival received the “Gold Award for Arts Promotion 2008” from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.