Jrme Bel strikes again with a new portrait of a dancer.
Tue Sep 7 2010
Do you have other projects in the works?
I do. I'm working with a Belgian choreographer Pierre Droulers. He's the head of Charleroi/Danses and he asked a collective based in Lyon [Loge 22] and created by a few friends of mine to revisit one of his early pieces from 1996. So they asked me to be part of that project, so I'll be in Brussels quite a bit this fall to work on that. The project is interesting, working with my friends is interesting. I'm sure it won't be always easy, but I'm looking forward to experience that. I don't know if you're familiar with Christophe Honor? He is a French director and he does a lot with Chiara Mastroianni and Romain Duris and I'm working on his next movie. He was wanting to have a dance number in his next movie with Chiara Mastroianni—mostly with her—and so I'm working with her and training her for the number and also creating the number. It's funny to call it a number but that's what it's called. Those are the three main projects that I have and I have a few other things but I have to be careful not to fill every moment that I have. I also teach Cunningham technique in Paris and in Lyon.
What would Cunningham have thought of this solo? Did he know Jrme?
Yes. Jrme had met him a couple of times, and I think Merce saw The show must go on in Australia. I think he was more familiar with Boris Charmatz's work because we were on tour at the same time as he was. It's hard to say. It's a hard question. We performed an excerpt about my time with Merce for a memorial in front of the whole Cunningham company and a lot of Merce aficionados, and I was scared. I wanted what I was saying to be as true as possible to my experience. The truth would be very different if you did it with a different dancer. So I had to be true to myself and also very respectful of Merce and the work and the company. That was our intention but sometimes your intentions are not easily read that way, so it was my main concern and I think it would have been the same had Merce been there. I'm sure I would have been more scared. I don't know what he would have thought. I hope he would have liked it. I wish he had seen it, but life decides otherwise.
Where were you when Cunningham died?
I was in Lyon. I had been in New York three weeks before that so I saw him. I went to the studio and had a little conversation with him. He was very frail and very tired, but still a trouper. He asked me how I was and we talked a little bit about Lyon. It was nice. I knew that for me I was saying goodbye. I had heard from various people that he was not doing well. Then, I was on vacation and Andrea Weber called me to tell me that [executive director] Trevor Carlson had come to the dancers and told them that Merce was rapidly declining and probably dying, and I think ten days later it happened. It's very emotional to think about it.
What did you think when three senior dancers—Holley Farmer, Koji Mizuta and Daniel Squire—were let go?
Honestly, I was like, Thank God I got out because I would have been on that list. Agewise, with the time I had been in the company? I definitely fit the profile. It was after I'd been in Lyon for two years. At the Lyon Opra Ballet, we have one-year contracts so we can be let go pretty easily. And it happens for various reasons; [Yorgos] needs contracts or he has people that he's more excited about that he wants to hire; so it happens a lot more than with Merce. And with Merce we were part of a family and because of that you could rarely get fired unless you really screwed up in one way or another. You wouldn't get fired. When that happened with Koji, Daniel and Holley, it made me realize how fortunate it was for the Cunningham dancers to be in that environment. That it happened so little. Of course, I was sad for those three dancers because I don't necessarily know if they had seen it coming, but it made me realize that compared to the rest of the dance world, the Cunningham company was actually a fairly soft environment to be in.
Is the fact that you're now taking your career in your own hands a reaction to any of that?
I know that I didn't want to be fired. I had seen it happen in Lyon with people that were sort of toward the end of their career and because they make the decision a year or two late—like they were thinking of leaving the next year, and then they got fired. Psychologically it's very hard and for me it would have been hard to recover from. I didn't want to have that hanging over my head. I thought I'd rather leave on my own terms. In Lyon, almost all the dancers are very balletic; they're very classically trained, which wasn't necessarily my case. I had some technical background, but it didn't easily allow me to do everything. I was never going to be first cast of a very classical Forsythe piece or [Jir] Kylin piece, which is an important part of the rep. I knew I was in no way irreplaceable in that company. Not that you ever are.
What did you perform in Lyon?
I joined the company and did [Cunningham's] Beach Birds, which was interesting to do. It was so soon after I left the company—too soon to really appreciate it. We did it two years later and it was a much better experience for me. And also in the same program, there was Newark and Set and Reset/Reset from Trisha Brown and I was lucky enough to be in Newark. We worked on it for three months. Trisha Brown was the other company I was considering before joining Lyon, and I was auditioning actually; it was down to me and this other guy, and Yorgos hired me so I decided to go back to France and to be more part of a rep company. So it was a very strong desire of mine to do her work.
I worked with Odile Duboc, which was also a beautiful experience. It was not creating a new piece, but doing a piece that she had created on the company two or three years earlier. She's an important figure of French dance from the '80s and '90s, and she passed away a year after she worked with us, so it was also very important for me to do that. The big surprise was that Ana Laguna and Mats Ek chose me to be the prince in Giselle. That was a very intense experience. The two Giselles and the two Albrechts were sent to Stockholm to work with them to learn our parts, and then we went back to Lyon and they came with us and we worked for two months only on that. That was like a year and a half after I joined the company, and it was great for me. I was more of a contemporary dancer in the company: I was doing Cunningham, Trisha Brown and more modern things and it kind of gave me a place. I felt like I wasn't mistaken to come there. I can fit in two different styles.
I'm not a huge fan of Mats Ek, but I've always wanted to see his Giselle.
For me, out of the neoclassical choreographers he's the one I'm the most interested in. I'm not considering Forsythe—he is contemporary. I'm not a big fan of Kylin. Bjart and Nacho Duato—all those people are not my cup of tea but I found that with Mats Ek, there is a physicality that is very interesting. It's very in the ground. There are very big positions. Similar ideas, strangely enough, with Merce as far as moving as big as possible, going beyond your limits, being very grounded and jumping from nowhere very high. So physically I was not in a total foreign country even though it was expressing love and pain and betrayal and the story and all that stuff that we don't have with Merce. That was the hardest part for me. Narrative is still somehow a little bit problematic to me in our day and age.
You have a lot of grandeur. For me, you in that role wouldn't have been hard to buy.
[Laughs] I don't know. To Mats and Ana, the reason why there is movement is because there is an emotion behind it—everything had to be initiated by an emotion. And it was a predetermined emotion. It wasn't something you feel in the moment so you had to create love for this woman and hate for this other character. It was a challenge because I'm not necessarily an actor in that sense even though I'm finding it more and more interesting to speak onstage and to say a text. That idea of playing a character is definitely foreign to me and not necessarily as interesting as just delivering a line or a moment.
What is it like to speak and move in the solo?
Jrme is very specific. He doesn't believe you can do both at the same time. So I speak and then I dance to kind of show what I've spoken about. The show is very detailed; there's not a lot of room for chance in this solo. It was very scary for me at first: To speak onstage, I found, was a lot more revealing than to dance in a nude unitard. Or even to be naked. I felt people would get a lot more information about who I was from the way I spoke than from seeing me dance. With the voice, I couldn't hide.
You said that Jrme really pushed you to talk about why you are a dancer. Can you answer why?
[Laughs] It's still an ongoing question. I think the reason why I chose dance is very circumstantial, as it is for a lot of people. I had done sports when I was a kid, but I wasn't very coordinated. Dance allowed me to be physical without being judged. Especially with the kind of dance that I started with—there was no better or worse dancer, so it kind of allowed me to find my way of dancing and to be physical in a safer way. I think if I had been judged right away, I would have given up.
Why are you choosing it now?
That is much more difficult to answer. It's one thing that I know how to do—sort of, depending on what I'm doing. I think that's why I'm investigating work based on improvisation now. It's kind of going back to the essence of what dance in your body is, but without all the training and all those things that you've seen. Improvisation is very difficult for me, but I find it to be a good tool to try to let go of what I have accumulated. I still very much value the art form. But for me it has to be an art form to be valued. I'm not a huge fan of dance on Broadway or music videos. Traditional dance has a big value but not necessarily on an artistic level. More on a sociological or historical level. It's important to be seen, but I don't necessarily find it interesting artistically. For me, dance is becoming more and more interesting the more it merges with contemporary art, which is also what I discovered with Merce. I think he opened a door to so much with Trisha [Brown] and postmodernism and with what is going on with dance now in performance art. I went to see Marina Abramovic and that's interesting to me—to question the body. Dance in that sense is interesting to me. When it's searching, when it's questioning—the same way art is.
What was the effect of writing your history as opposed to talking through it?
It was very important to find the right words. I can talk pretty easily. You can be as full of shit writing as you can speaking, but it involved a lot more thinking. Sometimes you have an idea in your head and you can't really express it with words. To keep on going at it for weeks or months definitely allowed me to go a lot further than I would have on my own. And it was also part of work. Work was thinking about my life.
How bizarre is it to have a piece named after you?
It's weird. You're talked about as an object by presenters—or even Jrme. As I deal with more administrative things, I talk about the piece as an object, which is very odd. It makes me question recognition and why you want it. You realize that it's not that important ultimately. Which is good. I would hate to bathe in the glory of it. That is kind of disgusting to me. It's also not reflecting the reality of my life. It's not because you have this thing with your name on it that it changes your life. It doesn't. If anything, it makes you ask other questions. I still have exactly the same chores and the same problems, and they are totally unrelated to this piece because probably 99 percent of my life is unrelated to this piece at this point, on a daily basis. Well, maybe not 99. [Laughs] Maybe 80.
Cdric Andrieux is at the Joyce Theater Sept 18 and 19.