François Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal
In Duchesses, two choreographers—naked and armed with hula hoops—shake up the New York at the Invisible Dog.
Photograph: Clive Jenkins
Time Out New York: What are some of the ideas behind Duchesses?
François Chaignaud: It is a piece that we’ve been performing for five years. Of course, for us, it’s really exciting to perform in the U.S. because the hula hoop is so linked to the American culture and to sexual liberation. The hula hoop becomes the choreographer. We’re basically on two platforms with very simple light from below, moving for 35 minutes. There is a constant movement of the hula hoop that is both guiding us and that we have to sustain. There are no tricks. It’s not like a circus hula hoop performance. It’s very minimal and more like a meditation, but there is a moving constraint that is guiding the choreography and also makes us be submitted to the moment because a hula hoop is not something you can capitalize on. As soon as you stop moving your hips, the hula hoop falls. There is this tension during the whole piece. There is this very strong kinesthetic empathy with the audience because of this constant movement and the instinctive understanding that if the movement stops, the image fails and—like magic—disappears.
Time Out New York: How does the hula hoop relate to sexual liberation?
François Chaignaud: It’s the movement itself. It’s a game so it looks very childish, but at the same time—to sustain the hula hoop—you have to move your hips back and forth or side to side. This is explicitly sexual. At the same time, it’s a kid’s game, so it’s very ambiguous.
Time Out New York: How long can you sustain the movement?
François Chaignaud: Sometimes it falls because it’s live performance. That is fine too: When it falls, the audience understands what is at stake, the danger of it—but we prefer when it doesn’t fall. We first wanted to work together and then Marie-Caroline had seen Grace Jones in concert, and she has this huge hula hoop when she is singing. We started thinking that the hula hoop would be a little excerpt of our piece, but then we realized that it should be the whole piece. We found Hoopla!Berlin. I don’t know if you have this in the U.S., but a few years ago in Europe, hooping was very big, and there was a group of people who would practice the hula hoop either for staying in shape or for parties or even to feel better. They say that the circle of the hoop symbolizes the energetic sphere of your body, so it helps in improving your self-esteem because the hula hoop is the materialization of your own space. We took classes from them. Our purpose was very different from theirs though—we were not trying to do tricks, but to find stamina. We practiced a lot. And to understand also how it’s not only a performance—meaning like a sport performance—but how can this movement become choreography? It’s very minimal, but there is the rhythmic issue. Also, where does the movement start? How can you move other parts of the body while keeping the same hip movement?
Time Out New York: How did you decide to work together in the first place?
François Chaignaud: We know each other as dancers, and we have been in pieces together. In Berlin, there is the festival Tanz im August, and they allow artists who are in the festival the chance to try out some ideas. They don’t produce the piece, and they give almost no money, but you have the chance to make visible the work that you want to try out. That’s why we could do that piece. I don’t think we would have had the idea to write and apply for a residency about a hula hoop performance. It’s a great experience to perform this piece. It’s very visual. There are many things to look at in this very minimal proposition.
Time Out New York: Are you going for unison?
François Chaignaud: No. It’s two different tasks, but because we are the exact same size and the same skin color, there is something that is a little twinlike. The movement is so simple that people see how similar we are, but they also see a lot of differences. There is no unison, but there are parallel scores.
Time Out New York: What is your movement score or task?
François Chaignaud: The score is time-based, but this is really from the inside. The audience is not supposed to notice. We have a time frame to go from one step to another; what we want to try to give to the audience is the feeling—when it first starts—that we almost don’t move. It’s just a tiny movement of the hips. We don’t move the feet, and we try to sustain that as long as possible, so the perception of time is stretched and you feel it’s just going to be this forever. It’s just an image. And people also think at the beginning that if we don’t move more, it’s because we cannot, because it would be too hard, so we try—little by little—to add mobility to other parts of the body.
Time Out New York: How did you rehearse or practice this?
François Chaignaud: We practiced together and then in 2009 I had a one-month residency in San Francisco. I was working on other things, but I bought a very heavy hula hoop in San Francisco. It was full of sand. They sell these for women who want to lose weight. It’s really hard to hoop with it; it takes a lot of effort. I practiced 30 or 40 minutes every day for a month and I really improved because I understood muscles, posture, weight shifts—everything. After that I didn’t really have to train anymore. It was my intensive training. [Laughs] And then we worked again on a score and to make the piece more precise and more refined and also to understand which imagery would nourish the performance.
Time Out New York: It must be such a different kind of training. Did it change your body, your musculature?
François Chaignaud: I don’t know. I guess it makes your body be fit, for sure. After 40 minutes, you feel like you’ve been in a washing machine.
Time Out New York: Duchesses is as much a physical as a cerebral experience for you. How is it a meditation?
François Chaignaud: It takes a lot of concentration. If you think of something else, the hoop falls. The audience feels that we have to be so focused on what we’re doing. I like the word capitalization. Usually in dance or in performance, if you do something really impressive then you can rest on the capital that you’ve built, but with the hoop that is not possible. You can’t keep anything. You have to constantly be in the instant. Even if you hoop for 30 minutes in an amazing way, if you stop moving your hips, the hoop falls and it doesn’t matter that you did it for a half hour before. There is a level of being a slave of the instant that makes it a very spiritual performance, too. It’s like mediation: You can’t think about the future, and you can’t look back to the past. You have to be exactly in the moment.