For three weeks this month, French artists will take over some of New York City's most prestigious venues, and their eclectic choreography will culminate in a study of contemporary dance hosted by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
DANSE is a dance festival that boasts 16 New York City premieres in 14 diverse spaces from New York Live Arts to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to the Joyce. Each venue worked with the French Embassy independently and sought out and chose the acts that they are presenting, and the productions are tailored to the target audience of the locale.
One of the dancers, Maud Le Pladec, will present her piece, “Democracy,” at New York Live Arts from May 8 to 9. Le Pladec's choreography is based on the philosophy of Miguel Abensour's book, “Democracy Against the State,” and it considers the notions behind democracy as an institution and how those notions manifest themselves outside of the government.
For her journey into political theory, Le Pladec chose to collaborate with Bang on a Can, a New York band that incorporates modern melodies. The partnership began two years ago, when band member Julia Wolfe and Le Pladec met at another French dance festival. Because the music of “Democracy” is a product of the American environment and Le Pladec's movement was inspired by the score's rhythms, she feels that the piece is ripe for its New York City debut.
“I really made a kind of ... research exploration ... to go a bit deeper and to know more about the issues of American music,” Le Pladec said. “The music is the founding element of my work, and I'm really interested in exploring the relationship between sound and gesture.”
Much like “Democracy,” Pierre Rigal's “Micro” stresses the relationship between music and dance, and his choreography is a conglomeration of art forms.
“We cannot say it's really a dance piece,” Rigal said. “It's more of a physical and dance rock concert.”
The Joyce's director Linda Shelton saw “Micro” several years ago in Europe, and she specifically selected it for DANSE. Though the piece's ambiance may be loud and boisterous, its underlying theme is profound and universal.
“It's the story of the fear of not having control of his [the main character's] own life,” Rigal said. “At the end, we could say that the child breaks all of his toys.”
From May 9 to 11, Latifa Laâbissi will portray a more intimate yet similarly charged role at the Center for Performance Research. Laâbissi, who trained as an apprentice with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, is familiar with the United States, and she is challenging the audience to question our understandings of immigration, colonization, and exploitation in “Self Portrait Camouflage.” While onstage, she confronts the audience completely nude except for her Indian headdress, and throughout the piece, she adopts several personalities, from an aggressively conservative politician to his victim. Her motions are awkward and distorted, evoking the suffering and cruelty involved in the political actions that stem from the topic.
“In this piece, all those different roles are there to multiply angles for understanding and most importantly perception,” Laâbissi said in an email to Spectator. “I always try to work on four concepts at once: poetic, political, aesthetic and real.”
While one of DANSE's priorities is to bring up-and-coming French dance groups to the United States, the festival also intends to spread awareness and knowledge about physical expression in the 21st century. Noémie Solomon, a current post-grad student at McGill University, has been hired to lead two panel discussions on the relationship between visual and performance art on May 4 at MoMA PS1, where dancers, choreographers, curators, and art historians will enter into a dialogue about contemporary dance. Solomon has also been asked to edit two publications that document the event and the larger ideas behind it.
“DANSE: An Anthology” is a compilation of 25 recently written essays on contemporary dance. Because DANSE draws on the globalization of dance as an industry, Solomon noted that it was important to her to have a range of voices represented in the compendium. “There's a kind of lack of translation around the discourse of dance,” she said. “The idea is really to map or to do a kind of survey around different theories of contemporary dance.”
While the anthology speaks to dance theory, “DANSE: a catalogue” will directly relate to the performances included in the festival. Writers have been commissioned to document their experiences at the shows, and Solomon will curate the collection after the festival has concluded.
For French dance professionals, DANSE is an opportunity to see how their creations are received internationally. “I don't have any expectations, to be honest. I have a lot of questions,” Le Pladec said.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Maud Le Pladec's name as Maud Le Placed. Spectator regrets the error.