The Dance culture in France

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Lyon Opera House
Lyon Opera House
(Rhône) renovated by the
architect Jean Nouvel in 1986.
© F. de La Mure / M.A.E.

As in music, the formerly hard-and-fast borders separating classical from modern are becoming increasingly blurred. The Paris Opera Ballet has maintained its long tradition of excellence and thanks to Claude Bessy, its school has become one of the foremost dance academies in the world. The last twenty years have witnessed the birth of a large number of companies that have cast a whole new light on the art of choreography. Maurice Béjart reinvented dance, and those who have followed in his wake have left their mark on it, from Régine Chopinot and Jean-Claude Gallotta to Dominique Bagouet, Angelin Preljocaj, Sylvie Guillem and Marie-Claude Pietragalla. In France, dance has also benefited from the work of foreign choreographers such as William Forsythe, Merce Cunningham or Pina Bausch, who regularly perform to great acclaim in the theatres of Paris and the provinces. Established in 1998, the Centre national de la danse (National Dance Centre) works to encourage creativity, the dissemination of works and training and research in choreographic culture and dance-related professions.

Philippe Decoufle: the unclassifiable choreographer

Known in France, but also throughout the world, for having orchestrated the opening and closing ceremonies of the sixteenth Winter Olympics at Albertville (Savoie), in 1992, Philippe Découflé defines himself as a dancer, choreographer, theatre director and artistic director. At the age of 45, this perpetually questing artist is a genius at combining dance, circus, video, music and comedy to produce shows that are completely unclassifiable.

“As a child, I wanted to be a cartoonist,” but after going through the Annie Fratellini Circus School and the Marceau Mime School as a teenager, he turned progressively towards dance - a discipline whose joys and freedoms he discovered in Paris night clubs. He prefers the disparity of modern dance to the set corps de ballet of classical dance. He came to know the range and possibilities of contemporary dance with choreographer Alwin Nicolais during his training at the Centre National de la Danse Contemporaine in Angers.

After a brief career as a solo dancer in the early 1980s (he worked notably with Régine Chopinot), he founded the “Découflé Company of Arts” in 1983, with which in the same year he won the Bagnolet choreography competition. At the age of 22, the young man surprised the jury and puzzled audiences with a jumpy, cheerful and offbeat choreography to music by Karl Biscuit. The Découflé touch was born...

He then gathered around him a group of performers and craftspeople who were never to leave him: dancers Eric Martin, Pascale Henrot and Michèle Prélonge, costume designer Philippe Guillotel, lighting engineer Patrice Besombes... Talented visible and invisible links in the Découflé machinery, they allow the creator to make real his follies, his creative urges, his naïve and magical, terrifying and surprising, inevitably original and offbeat imagination - a child’s imagination producing swaying arm and finger movements, grimaces, eccentric and humorous compositions.

In addition to choreography, Philippe Découflé has also tried his hand at advertising (Polaroid, in 1989, which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Festival), music videos, short films (Caramba in 1986 and Le P’tit Bal Perdu in 1994 which recreates the famous song of comedian Bourvil this time in sign language - a film that went on to win many international prizes), television channel formats (the public television channel France 2 in 1999), commemorative ceremonies (the Bleu Blanc Goude procession on the bicentenary of the French Revolution for which he devised the Clog Dance; the opening ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the Cannes Festival)... In 1992, at the ceremonies for the Olympic Games, two billion television viewers were introduced to his “découfleries”: two hundred and fifty dancers, acrobats, jugglers and stilt walkers who, like an army of goblins emerging from monumental horns of plenty, took possession of a stage as big as several football pitches.

In 1995, Découflé moved his company to Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs, into an old heating factory that he refurbished into a teeming laboratory in which artists, designers and technicians can exchange ideas. New creations have emerged from this: Shazam and Abracadabra in 1998, Cyrk 13 in 2001 from a collaboration with the thirteenth promotion of the CNAC (French National Centre of Circus Arts in Châlons-en-Champagne).

In 2003, still surrounded by the same team because, as he says, “for work to be enjoyable and effective, a bond is essential,” he devised Solo and Sombrero. These two shows are currently on international tour, two faces of the same play that seem to echo one another through their differences. “In Solo, I am fully lit, I lay myself open as though naked whilst in Sombrero I do the opposite, I am a shadow, clothed, painted black,” explains Philippe Découflé. The only performer in Solo, the choreographer plays with his image in it, broken, deformed, replicated ad infinitum and he does not hesitate to include aspects of his private life with photographs of his parents and children. With Sombrero, he gets back with his fellow dancers to launch into an imaginary, phantasmagorical Mexico, inspired by Spaghetti Westerns.

Defining himself as “an eternally dissatisfied, fundamentally independent, man,” Philippe Découflé has always put his art and his wishes first, in front of the allure of fame and compromise. This is a driving force that continues to take him forward, to make him dance and to makes us dream.

Written by Virginie Oks taken from Actualité en France (magazine of the ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Solo: on tour in the USA and Canada in February and March 2007, in Paris in June 2007.

Sombrero: in Paris in May and June 2007 then on tour in Europe from July to October 2007.

Dernière modification : 09/02/2008

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