Jrme Bel strikes again with a new portrait of a dancer.
Tue Sep 7 2010
It was a heart-sinking moment when Cdric Andrieux—a beloved member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company—left in 2007 to join the Lyon Opra Ballet in his native France. On September 18 and 19, the dancer returns to New York as a solo artist in Cdric Andrieux, an intimate look at his career by the stellar French choreographer Jrme Bel. The engagement, presented at the Joyce Theater as part of the Crossing the Line festival, features Andrieux talking and dancing his way through his own history. Speaking from Lyon, where he still lives, he fleshed out the details of the project without, of course, giving it all away.
How is this show going?
It's so good. It's a really killer show to do. We were just in Vienna for ImPulsTanz. It's not like it's a premiere, but every time before the show, I get very anxious. Usually around 1:30 or 2pm, I start to be not a very happy camper because I'm nervous. Before the show in Vienna, I was like, God—you have to find a way to enjoy this. You have to be more relaxed. After the show I realized why I'm so nervous. It's not nervousness anymore about how people are going to react to it; it's just getting through it because it's just a hard show. It's an hour and 20 minutes with no break. But it's amazing to do. It's an amazing experience.
How did you meet Jrme Bel?
I met him in Lyon at the Opra. We were doing [Bel's] The show must go on. I think it was one of the first things that I did there. I had seen it when it premiered in Paris, probably ten years ago and I was surprised—I was happy to do this piece, but we're working for three weeks. What are we going to do for three weeks? There isn't much to it. Actually, it ended up being fascinating—to hear him talk about all the ideas behind the piece and just to hear his particular take on dance and on us as a ballet company doing contemporary work. We didn't have a personal relationship, then I ran into him by accident. I think he knew I had been with Cunningham, but we hadn't had that conversation. Merce Cunningham, Trisha [Brown], Pina [Bausch]—they were the people who were very important to him when he was a dancer before he started making work. I think the interest came from that, and it was just a succession of random things. We started talking through e-mails, and we started talking about Cunningham through e-mails. He asked me if I would be interested in just working. We weren't talking performances yet. He had warned me that he had tried this with a bunch of people, and it doesn't necessarily work.
What did you talk about?
It was basically two years of conversations. It was very playful in a way, and it was just telling stories. Pretty soon he started asking me to put it all in writing. For two years, I was writing about my life as a dancer from before Merce to after Merce, and we had pages. There were things he was interested in and things that he wasn't and things that he pushed me to investigate a little bit. Why am I a dancer? Why did I choose dance? Basic questions that were surprisingly hard for me to answer. Of course, there are a lot of things I can't tell you because I talk about them in the show. [Laughs]
Understood. When did you start dancing?
I was 12 and I started with improv and composition in a school of contemporary dance in Brest, which is in Brittany; it was in a very small school. It wasn't even a conservatory, but the teacher I had was very interesting. I started in 1989 and the '80s in France had been very important for dance—a lot of people were making work and the government was starting to give money to culture. My teacher was very aware of what was going on and of Pina Bausch and of Merce Cunningham, so I started in that mentality of finding your own voice through movement. I had very little technical training, which is ironic at this point because now I have very little improvisation skills and much more technical training. Then I went to the national conservatory [Conservatoire National Suprieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris] and spent four years and gained much more confidence as far as technique was concerned. I was doing ballet, which at first I was really bad at.
Why were you bad at it?
Okay. [Pauses apologetically] I keep on editing myself as I think through this because, like I said, I talk about it in the solo. But I was just not a natural at all. I was not flexible. And I came to the conservatory at 16 and the people in my class were rejects from the Paris Opra. Ballet was something that they knew very much, and I was totally new to that vocabulary. I didn't really know how to do a pas de bourre or very simple things. I had to make up really fast for all that, which I think started my obsession with technical dance. Being a good dancer technically.
Why was or is that important?
I think was would be the proper tense at this point. [Laughs] It had to do with recognition, with feeling accepted in the dancer's circle. When I first started at the conservatory, I felt very much like an outcast. I was coming from a very different background. I just wanted to fit in as much as possible, and I think that's why I went onto that path that I've been on for a while now. And I say "was" because now I am trying to break out of it a little bit and to try to make my body unlearn all those things that I've done for so long. Then I was offered a job with Jennifer Muller.
Wow. I didn't remember that about your career.
How did she find you?
The national conservatory had done a couple of her pieces. It was a little jazzy, a little show-offy. Very different from what we would see in France at that time. Jazz-influenced dancing was more for music videos. She asked if I would be interested to join and I said yes, and I went to New York and I did a year with her. I learned quite a lot about partnering skills and phrasing and movement. She was a very good teacher, very demanding, but I felt like I wanted to do other things. This wasn't really the place where I wanted to do my career.
How familiar were with you with the Cunningham technique?
I had had Cunningham training at the conservatory with Susan Alexander. So I was in New York. I was like, You've been here for a year. What are your choices? I've traveled all this way and somehow started a new life here. Which was difficult at first because New York was not at all a dream of mine. I didn't particularly want to dance in the United States, and I'd never been there before I moved to join her company. It wasn't like some of my friends who had dreams to move to New York City. I had not that many dreams about New York City, which is also ironic because a lot of crazy dreams came true there. [Laughs] I was like, What can I do here? There was also something very different for me coming from France—the status of being a dancer in New York in the United States. In France, it was very much a profession and you could earn your living through that. Rehearsals were always paid and when I moved to the United States, I was dancing for—it wasn't a huge company, but she was known. I had to be a waiter and all these things that were very weird to me. Retrospectively, it was great because it was very humbling and it exposed me to other things, but I was like, If I'm staying here, I have to feel like dancing is my profession, and I don't have to do other things on the side. I looked at the companies that could offer that and Merce Cunningham was one of them. I kind of felt like I could fit in because I knew that he liked tall dancers and I went to the studio and I also knew they were looking for men. I went to the studio and they offered me to be an apprentice.
Did you audition?
Yes. They were doing an audition for men. Thirty or 40 guys came and they kept Koji [Mizuta] and me. Koji was to replace Jared Philips. They also knew that Tom Caley and Glen Rumsey were on their way out, so they kept me under their wing for that, to replace one of them. It was fairly quick. It doesn't feel like it's going quick when you go through it [Laughs]. And then I spent eight years in the company.
Apart from knowing that you wanted to be in a place where you wouldn't have to wait tables, what drew you to Cunningham's work? Is that difficult to answer because of the show?
[Pauses] Every time you hear a little bit of the silence I think that's what it will mean. [Laughs] I can say that I didn't know very much about Merce's work and what convinced me that I wanted to dance for the company was seeing an Event at Lincoln Center in August 1998. I felt like it could be a very interesting place for me to be in.