Q&A: Thibault Lac talks about dancing with Trajal Harrell

The spectacular Thibault Lac talks about dancing in Trajal Harrell's Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church

Thibault Lac

Thibault Lac Photograph: Bertrand Delous

Trajal Harrell's series Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church is a clever, mashed-up ode to dance history and more. As part of the 2014 Crossing the Line festival, the Kitchen offers the entire package (XS, S, M, Jr. Plus, L and Made-to-Measure) over the course of a week. Here, the captivating dancer Thibault Lac talks about his own history and working with Harrell.

An indispensable part of Trajal Harrell’s seductive dance series, Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, Thibault Lac imagines what a voguer might look like if he suddenly found himself in a Greek myth. In Harrell’s multilayered choreography, nothing is entirely what it seems, yet Lac’s willowy elegance is forever beguiling.  Here, he discusses his part in Harrell’s experiment, which began with a question: “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” For Lac, it’s been a ball.

Did you first meet Trajal Harrell at P.A.R.T.S.?
Yes. We first met very briefly at [the Brussels-based Performing Arts Research and Training Studios], and then we met again in New York. P.A.R.T.S. was then in two cycles; the first was a training cycle, and the second was a research cycle. One could propose personal projects during the second cycle, and I went to New York for two months. I was assisting Tino Sehgal because he was preparing an exhibition for the Guggenheim. I ended up staying with Trajal, and we got to spend more time together and became friends, and he really introduced me to the whole New York dance scene.

What struck you about the New York dance scene? Did it feel very different to you?
Yeah, I think it was very different. I was exposed to a lot in Brussels, but I don’t think we get to see so much American work—other than major and older figures. A few years ago, there were even fewer young American choreographers present here. So it was exciting to discover a whole new scene.

Had you started working with Trajal in the studio at that point?
Not at all. Our relationship started more as a friendship and work came later. I think I asked him if I could work with him.

Why did you want to?
I had not seen anything, in fact. I was finishing school, and I was working with other choreographers in Brussels and Montpellier. I wanted to accumulate as many different experiences as possible, and it was nice and inspiring to be around him, so I just wanted more of that. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into in terms of the work. [Laughs]

What was your first piece with him?
We started working on both Antigone Sr. and Antigone Jr. at the same time. But Jr. premiered before the other. It was kind of a dive [into the work], because Antigone Sr. was a long process; the project took several forms before finding its final shape, and there was a team of people who had worked together previously. I joined for the remaining part of the process. It was still in its initial state; they hadn’t had many residencies, but the dialogue of the project had been going on for a while, and I was jumping in. It happened quickly.

Did Trajal’s proposal intrigue you?
Yes. I think I came much more from the Judson Church school and P.A.R.T.S. and was influenced by that, so voguing was foreign to me, but the very little I knew about it was really engaging. I tried to learn and experience all these new things.

Why was Trajal’s proposal appealing?
There are different aspects of it. Quickly it became very challenging because I realized, Oh this is going to be quite different from how I’m used to working. It was challenging and exciting, and it confronted my expectations. In Brussels, Daniel [Linehan, a fellow student and choreographer with whom Lac performed] was American, but we had been in school together for two years, so we shared a lot of strategies and procedures of working. It all seemed very familiar, and working with Trajal was not. [Laughs] There was that. As a freelance performer, I was trying to do as many different projects as possible with different choreographers and aesthetics. I was working with Daniel Linehan, Noé Soulier and Eleanor Bauer. Then I did a project with Mathilde Monnier. I was trying to reach some kind of versatility; maybe I wanted to embrace an allusion of the performer/dancer being very versatile. That was the exciting thing about the different approaches. [Working with Trajal] was a new paradigm almost: My way of approaching the body was present within the work itself—we play with codes and shifting identities.

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