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.

Time Out New York: Do you feel a connection with the audience because they’re almost willing the hula hoop not to fall?
François Chaignaud:
When it really works well, we feel the audience with us. And most people say that they find themselves moving their hips just looking at us. It’s kinesthetic empathy; they are really with the tension of it. The movement is so simple that it’s very easy to identify with it in a nonconscious way, so that makes the connection with the audience deep.

Time Out New York: Did you have a hula hoop when you were a child?
François Chaignaud:
No! That’s the thing. I didn’t know how to hoop before we did the piece. At first, I couldn’t keep it going for more than three seconds.

Time Out New York: Have you and Marie-Caroline created anything else together?
François Chaignaud:
No. We always want to do something in the future. We haven’t found a good occasion. This piece is really unique for us—compared to the other pieces that we’ve done. It’s like a little jewel.

Time Out New York: It is different, but aren’t you still working with duration and stamina, which are ideas that you have explored before?
François Chaignaud:
Yeah, yeah. For me, it’s linked to both Pâquerette and Sylphides [two dances that Chaignaud created with Cecilia Bengolea]. In this piece, the choreographer is the hula hoop, so it’s like we are transferring this authority of choreography to something that is not us. The issue in Pâquerette and Sylphides was putting ourselves in situations where we had to make decisions, but where the situation was so strong and specific that it would define many things without us being obliged to define them. This piece is really clear: There is the choreographic power of this tool.

Time Out New York: I know that you are working on a new solo. Will that eventually come to the Invisible Dog?
François Chaignaud:
I don’t know. I am working on a solo for Montpellier [Danse festival] that will premiere in July. I’m still in the process of it, but one of the starting points is that it’s going to be a very specific time-and-space situation. It’s not going to happen in theaters; in Montpellier, it’s in a church. It may happen in churches or in other spaces that have the volume of being very high and closed. It will happen four times a day for 50 people. I know you had this in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century—I don’t know if you call it vaudeville, but it’s like cinema. You decide which hour you want to see the movie. I really wanted to try this different setting. Also, for me as a performer, it will drastically change my experience. I will perform for a long time. It’s different for the audience too; since they can choose their time and see something that is being repeated, they have a very different experience of looking. I hope. I think. This is one of the starting points.

Time Out New York: What is another?
François Chaignaud:
The other one is a very ritualistic form of art that I discovered in India called theyyam. The dancers and the actors never perform onstage; it has to happen in a temple, and they actually become the gods. So it’s kind of a holy voguing. They’re not trying to represent the story of the gods, like they would do in other forms of Indian art, but they become the gods so during their dances and songs people ask them questions. There is this functional dialogue with them. At the same time, they’re wearing amazing costumes that are so high and so big you think that they’re not going to be able to move at all. But little by little, they start to shake, to jump, to spin, and it’s really so spectacular. What I enjoy the most is the fact that it’s so spectacular, but at the same time they are so close to you that it’s very intimate and you can ask them things. It’s not that they are just stuck in their performativity. They have another function that goes beyond the fact that they are dancing or acting or singing. One thing that I’m working on and thinking about is how to have this intimacy—being extremely close to the people—and at the same time having the highest level of spectacle. I’m working with a fashion designer from Belgium, Romain Brau, and we are building two costumes. It’s going to feature a lot of animals, a lot of human hair—and it’s going to be almost like a sculpture. Really high. The other part is that I’ve collected songs in all different languages: Filipino, Ukrainian, Russian, old Spanish, Italian, Old English… They are kind of spell songs. I think it’s going to be a 30-minute intense recital within this huge costume. Now I’m going to work on the dance and on the performativity of it.

Time Out New York: Why did you start dancing in the first place?
François Chaignaud:
I started dancing when I was a kid. My family always says that I wanted to dance, but also to do music. At first they wanted to enroll me at the music conservatory, but it was so difficult to get the application and everything that one day, they were so discouraged they asked about the dance class. That was really easy. I was seven.

Time Out New York: What kind of dance did you study?
François Chaignaud:
It was at the conservatory in Rennes, so it was both ballet and contemporary dance. Modern dance—more a mix of Viola Farber and Laban and Cunningham.

Time Out New York: When did you figure out that you could go into this professionally? Did you like dance right away?
François Chaignaud:
When I was 14, I went to the conservatory in Paris, so that was already a little shift but when I had my baccalaureate, I was very much hesitating. I really enjoyed studying in school and I wasn’t sure if I should drop the dance and join a high-level university to study political science, or if I should continue the dance. I decided not to choose and that’s why I did both my dance studies and university studies in history. I would say that I’m still never sure. For me, it has to always be a choice for each project: I really question myself, What do I want to do? How do I want to dance? With whom? What for and for which context? I don’t want to feel stuck. I’ve never subscribed to the fact that dance is like a religion, that you have to give your soul to it. I may keep dancing my whole life, but I always want it to be a choice.

Time Out New York: Are you interested in presenting more solo work?
François Chaignaud:
I want to keep on collaborating with Cecilia and other artists, but I also want it to be a choice, and I felt that it became a bit like a system for me and I was losing a little bit of self-confidence being involved in collaboration. I felt that I had to give myself this challenge and I had this idea in the back of my head for a long time. It’s going to be the first time. I have done solo performances, but those that I never rehearsed for. Now I really have a production and I’m rehearsing it so it’s the first time that I’m putting myself in that kind of experience. I will see what it gives, but it’s really exciting as a new setting. It’s a solo work, but I’m also collaborating with the fashion designer and with a musician. You actually never work alone, but the fact that I’m going to be alone onstage is something that I’m looking forward to. It’s a new step.

Time Out New York: How did you meet Cecilia?
François Chaignaud:
We met in 2004 while she was in Montpellier. Our first project was Pâquerette, so quite fast we were talking about all the issues that were involved in sexuality—how could we include it in our art and in our dance and how could we not separate what we want to do as dancers from what’s happening in our lives? It was something that we thought we couldn’t achieve through somebody else’s project. It had to be our experience and our research. I’m very grateful for the choreographies I’ve been working on and am still working with. It just felt it was a question that we had to research.

Time Out New York: How do you prepare before you perform something like Duchesses or Pâquerette? How do you get yourself in that performance state?
François Chaignaud:
I am very rigorous with my warming up and stretching. With Duchesses, we just hoop a little bit before to get back to the sensation, but not too much so we don’t get exhausted. It depends on the piece. With Pâquerette, with Cecilia, we always end up having very intimate discussions while warming up. It just goes with the project. So we’re talking about our personal issues, about sex, about love, about anything.

Time Out New York: Why is the piece called Duchesses?
François Chaignaud:
The title has many possible explanations. One of them is that the hoop—they used to have dresses in the 18th century with a hoop inside to keep the shape of it. We became duchesses: We lost the dress and just the hoop remained. Also duchesses are nobility. What we like to feel is the fact that we are the slaves of the hula hoop. It’s the condition for us to become those duchesses. If we want to get to that point of creating this image that is beautiful and novel, we have to accept to be the slaves of the constant movement. So there is an ambiguous relationship to us and to the object.

Time Out New York: You perform on a platform. Can you basically perform this anywhere?
François Chaignaud:
If we want to make it indoors, it’s better in a black box so it’s really dark, but we’ve done it in galleries and also we love to do it in an outdoor space. But the space has to be really nice. We’ve done it in Vienna at the Belvedere garden at midnight. This is amazing for me to be outside doing this piece, but we have to really find the right place and location.

Time Out New York: How does it feel to be outside?
François Chaignaud:
I love it. It makes it more like a cosmic experience. The circle circling around our hips and the connection with the sky, with the stars, with the breeze.… It’s just different. For the audience, it might be a little more difficult to get into the performance itself because it’s less framed, but the experience is also very nice if the location is beautiful. Then it’s like a dream. It’s like living sculptures.

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