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: Why do you connect with François artistically?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
For this, we wanted to find a way where we could find a physical transformation. We both have an interest in the metamorphosis of the body; how can one start from one point and transform into something else? I think in Duchesses the body goes through so many different states that even historical images appear during the piece.

Time Out New York: What are the physical states that you experience in Duchesses?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
First, it requires a very strong concentration so the hula hoops don’t fall. There is a lot of tension. The hula hoop is like the motor of the machine; we are the machine, and the jewelry that we wear is the motor. I think the hoops control the piece. It’s not us who control it. It’s that object that suddenly comes alive and we are prisoners of that object, and it produces very different states. Sometimes, there are states of anger. I can feel angry because I feel totally controlled by the hoop and sometimes it’s also a state of freedom: You are so controlled that you can enter freedom. There are a lot of contradictions. 

Time Out New York: How did you even begin to consider a hula hoop?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
We wanted to work together, and we said, “Oh, okay—let’s work on transformation and make a concept,” and we were thinking about something completely different. I went to a concert by Grace Jones and she was hooping while she was singing, and I was hypnotized by the hoop and by her singing. I called François and said, “It’s fantastic, this image,” and we bought the hoops and we looked at each other hula hooping—we were very bad. Then we took private classes with some professional hoopers. It’s funny because it’s a child’s game, but it’s a child’s game that can really captivate you, and I think it goes further than just being a game somehow. And then we discovered the historical background for hula hoops.

Time Out New York: What is it?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
It’s the oldest game in the world. Egyptians were doing it and when it came to America, it made a big impact. Also there is a famous film from the Coen brothers, The Hudsucker Proxy, and it’s the story of the guy who invents the hula hoop. Fantastic film. And in Japan also, when [the hoop] arrived there, it was censored because it was the sexual movement of the hips that was too strong, too sexual. So people could not use hula hoops anymore. There’s a big historical background to this object that we liked. Also by watching each other doing it, there was the idea of an infinite circle and transformation.

Time Out New York: Did you hula hoop as a child?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
I did a little bit. My mom was a hula hoop queen. She was very good. She taught me some tricks. But then we took classes with professional hoopers, and they wanted to teach us tricks—how to have six hoops—but that’s not what we were interested in. We are not doing any tricks. It’s just the simple movements of the hoops going around the hips. The private classes were in Berlin, where the piece premiered. We found Hoopla!Berlin. It’s a couple who is touring the world and giving classes; during the summer, they go outside in the gardens in Berlin and give massive hula hoop classes so you have hundreds of people hooping in the park. [Laughs] It’s crazy.

Time Out New York: I love how the title plays with the idea of how you’re wearing the clothes of a duchess, but all that remains is the hoop.
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
Yes. It’s also the sensation that we are on top of platforms, one meter high, overlooking the public sitting on the floor, and it is true that we feel like duchesses. We feel completely dominant, but we are also completely vulnerable from the fact of being on a platform with the hoop and naked. That’s why I said that the piece has so many contradictions. The only jewelry we are wearing is the hoop around our hips. The body is naked and the transformation doesn’t happen from outside props or stories. It happens from the physical movements we are doing. 

Time Out New York: Does it make it easier to hula hoop naked? 
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
We had this issue at one point of thinking, What do we wear? And because the transformation of what is happening to the body is so strong, the best solution was to be naked to show that. It was a practical decision. What stays in that piece is the body, and we need to show it.

Time Out New York: Are you surprised that this piece has lasted so long?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
Yeah. But sometimes simple ideas go on; also, it fits the history—the hoops are the oldest game and the piece lasts and lasts. It’s great. It is always a beautiful moment to perform it. For me, it’s meditative—it’s a strong moment.

Time Out New York: How do you get yourself excited to perform it again?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
You nourish it from what you are doing at the present. I always try to nourish the piece from the work I’m doing now and then it’s also that you just let go and concentrate. I think concentration for me is the biggest issue in anything. To really concentrate on what you’re doing—that your whole mind is involved—and that you are not into representation or into acting or whatever. Just trying to make something good and to feel good with what we are doing. But with François, before we perform the piece, we are talking a lot and gossiping. We are scared. It is true that we are often, always very scared. We have this pressure and for us it’s very hard if the hoops fail. It’s not so bad—it happens—but we are always scared. It’s good to be scared also. It’s positive.

Time Out New York: Tell me about yourself. When and why did you start dancing?
Marie-Caroline Hominal:
I started dancing when I was so young. I had a very classical education. I started at six with my mother, who teaches children, and then I went into a classical school. Nowadays, people start later and often they study other things and then go into performance or dance. I had the old-fashioned dancing education. This was in Zurich at the ballet school and then in London at Rambert. I always wanted to do contemporary dance, but I was too young somehow and then I was there at the Rambert school...

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