21 — 24.05.2022
Noé Soulier, Thea Djordjadze, Karl Naegelen Angers-Berlin
dance / visual arts / music — premiere
On a daily basis we observe countless movements: a hand grabbing something or avoiding something, an arm passing something to someone. In our memory these movements are often reduced to their purpose, to the reason for which they were executed, but what is the complexity of their life? With First Memory, Noé Soulier – one of the most innovative choreographers active today, and present at the festival for the first time – builds a choreography that diverts daily movements from their initial function, through eight performers and a powerful and meticulous composition of gestures. For it he collaborates with visual artist Thea Djordjadze: her sculptures seem to recall something functional; they insistently refer to something, but stop just before whatever-it-is becomes recognisable; they open up an incredibly poetic space in which our imagination moves. Accompanied by the music composed for this creation by Karl Naegelen, performed and recorded by Ictus, the stage becomes a forest of bodies and sculptures in motion, a woven choreography composed of human and non-human gestures, of movements and moments of suspension. First Memory takes us on a journey into the uniqueness and elusiveness of everyday movements.
Conversation with Noé Soulier
Gilles Amalvi: In your latest creations, like Removing or Faits et gestes, you’re interested in what could be described as ‘non-spectacular gestures’ – practical actions, such as catching or throwing, which are exposed through operations of subtraction, of fragmentation. With this piece, First Memory, you start again with the elusive character of these actions. What is the choreographic angle, in terms of work and composition, implemented in this creation?
Noé Soulier: There is indeed a form of continuity between Removing, Faits et gestes, and Les Vagues around the notion of gesture. There’s something very rich in the gesture; it can be a practical action that has to do with efficiency, a way of acting in the world. The vocabulary I’m developing is based on actions motivated by practical goals – this has been a constant since the beginning. However, I believe that my aim is not to bring everyday gestures to the stage. The practical action is a starting point for me, not an end in itself. What interests me is to graft the choreographic vocabulary onto a vocabulary of actions that we have all mastered. These practical actions, these are present in everyday life, in sports… But my approach is quite different from that which can be found in dance – for example in the avant-garde works of the 1970s, which tried to make the everyday gesture appear as such – or in certain very formal approaches, which address movement in terms of geometry or mechanics.
(…) For me, it is a question of relying on the significant richness of the bodily experience, while defamiliarising it so that it becomes visible: suspending some of our automatic ways of reading or acting in order to be able to render this experience perceptible, and to feel it. I’ve always been very attracted by the richness of this relationship to movement, but another dimension has appeared to me more recently: when we manage to activate this perception, to defuse its obviousness, an affective, emotional, and memorial charge can appear. This is undoubtedly where the title First Memory comes from. It is a pre-discursive memory, which refers to a ‘before’ – before the automatic or reflexive nature of our actions or readings of the movement of others. Our first experiences are bodily, and very strongly linked to movement.
(…) I have the impression that a grey area exists that movement can help to perceive by gesturally organising this experience that isn’t governed by the same rules as those of language. Through this approach of disrupting practical goals, I am basically trying to find movements or sequences of movements that trigger a form of intensity. It would be difficult to define this intensity, but when it happens, it is possible to capture it. It’s difficult to trigger, equally difficult to preserve – it’s an unstable balance – but it is this perceptual horizon that I’m seeking. The kind of experience it gives rise to is of the same order as the emotional experience you can have when you’re touched by fleeting physical details – someone’s posture, their way of being, of moving. It’s very different from the apprehension of a global situation. As soon as we put words to it, describe the context or the psychology of a situation, this framework immediately closes the perceptual opening – that fleeting moment of revelation. If we remove this framework, we obtain a much more kaleidoscopic sensation, much more diffuse, but also more intense.
For this creation, you collaborated with the Ictus Ensemble and composer Karl Naegelen. What sort of relationship is there between choreography and music in this piece?
We’ve worked with Karl Naegelen and Ictus for a long time. For Les Vagues – already with Ictus – I had worked on a common structural logic: building the music on the dance and the dance on the music. Here, we proceeded very differently. The music was composed independently, through the idea of musically exploring the main gestures that are present in the choreography: avoiding, hitting and throwing. Of course, this is not a direct transposition – as in asking the instrumentalists to make these gestures – but rather, a structural transposition: how can a musical structure be a gesture? This idea allowed Karl to move away from traditional musical categories such as melody, harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation, or even more contemporary categories such as the materiality of sounds present in noise or spectral music. Karl treated music as a gesture. The notion of momentum is therefore central, both in the musical composition and in the choreography.
It is an approach to music that’s seen in terms of energy and in terms of movement – very organic, very visceral music. The music was composed independently, then the music and choreography were brought together on stage. Furthermore, it’s a score designed for recording, not for live musicians on stage. Now that we have these two materials – the choreography and the music – it is a question of grafting. The two materials are linked by the principles at work, so there are truly moments when a common energy takes over the stage.
Was the collaboration with artist Thea Djordjadze on the scenography also based on the idea of gesture?
(…) What interested me was the idea of being able to reconfigure the space in a rather architectural way, so as to create zones of visibility and invisibility – both for the spectators and for the performers themselves. Sometimes the audience can see two performers who cannot see each other, but those two can see a third performer that the audience cannot see. This creates a labyrinth of glances, a play of relationships between dancers and spectators around the visible and the invisible. (…)
These gestures are reminiscent of your piece Performing Art, which involved the gestures of installing works of art…
That’s right. In Performing Art, the reconfiguration of the space was mainly about the arrangement of the artworks, whereas in First Memory, it’s about these partition walls, leading to a rearrangement of the gaze. At the choreographic level, this produces a juxtaposition between two quite different vocabularies – one composed of these transformed practical actions, and the other of literal practical actions, since it is a question of moving the partitions. This allowed me to think about the fairly discrete moments of synchronisation: for example, the rotation of a wall would be synchronised with a musical event and with a transformed gesture. It is not about mixing these gestures – like moving a wall while dancing – but rather, of shifting the attention by integrating manipulative gestures into a network of signs – choreographic, sonic – which in turn transform them.
To summarise, I would say that two things are at work in the choreography of First Memory: the relationship between the intentional and the motor spontaneity of the interpreter. And the fact that everything is subject to indeterminacy, to a form of partial definition, which is not less precise but which leaves more room for the interpreters – for suggestion, for projection, for the imaginary, and for the capacity of the gestures to trigger this imaginary. (…) The logic of fragmentation, of the non-finiteness of actions – already present in Removing – is propagated in the phrases themselves; it is played out in the decentralised choreographic composition, and in the spatial construction – with the zones of visibility and invisibility generated by Thea’s work.
- In conversation with Gilles Amalvi, March 2022
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Charleroi danse
Conception, choreography: Noé Soulier | With: Stéphanie Amurao, Lucas Bassereau, Julie Charbonnier, Adriano Coletta, Meleat Fredriksson, Yumiko Funaya, Nangaline Gomis | Music created and recorded by the ensemble Ictus: Tom de Cock (percussion), Pieter Lenaerts (double bass), Aisha Orazbayeva (violin), Tom Pauwels (guitar), Jean-Luc Plouvier (piano), Paolo Vignorelli (flute) | Stage design: Thea Djordjadze | Costumes: Chiara Valle Vallomini | Lights: Victor Burel | Choreography assistant: Constance Diard | Light technician: Benjamin Aymard | Sound technician: François Baron | Technical direction: François Le Maguer | Production and distribution manager: Céline Chouffot | Production officer: Emma Audichon
Production: Cndc – Angers | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Montpellier Danse, Les Spectacles Vivants – Centre Pompidou, Festival d’Automne à Paris, La place de la danse CDCN Toulouse/Occitanie, Theater Freiburg | With the support of: Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels
Performances in Brussels with the support of the French Institute, the French Embassy in Belgium and The Alliance Française, in the frame of EXTRA (2022)