17, 18/05 – 20:15
19/05 – 18:00

One of today’s leading choreographers, Boris Charmatz mesmerised audiences at the last Kunstenfestivaldesarts with Levée des conflits. His latest creation offers a dance for machines and inert bodies, with a disruptive element running through it called “enfant” or child. enfant in the sense of malleable, fragile and uncontrollable matter. A burst of reality disturbing the equilibrium on stage. Transported, dropped and manipulated by dancers, children’s bodies invade the space. Their relationships generate an interplay of tension and release, passivity and action. A touching ballet unfolds, from which images, suspended between rest, dream and the round, emerge. The relationships are gradually reversed, removing the dividing line between big and small, animate and inanimate, and making way for a raging horde that carries everything away. A highlight at last year’s Festival d’Avignon where it premiered, enfant is an affirmation of the vital permeability of bodies.

« Charmatz ne livre aucun mode d'emploi à cette création secouante où l'on peut voir un formidable travail sur le corps, une maîtrise parfaite de l'énergie enfantine, un constat renvoyant dos à dos l'inconséquence des adultes et la cruauté des petits, une dénonciation subtile d'une certaine manipulation de l'enfance mais aussi du politiquement correct qui voit désormais de la pédophilie à tous les coins de rue... Spectacle courageux, intelligent, sensible, "Enfant" rend pleinement justice à ceux-ci, sans mélo ni oeillères. »
Jean-Marie Wynants, Le Soir

“Een pretpark hebben de kinderen, die Boris Charmatz op het Festival van Avignon choreografeert, niet nodig. Aan Enfant (***) beleven ze tenminste uitbundig dansplezier en wordt bovendien hun verbeelding uitgedaagd.”
Ludo Dosogne, Knack.be


Boris Charmatz

Eleanor Bauer, Nuno Bizarro, Matthieu Burner, Olga Dukhovnaya, Julien Gallée-Ferré, Julien Jeanne, Lénio Kaklea, Thierry Micouin, Mani A. Mungai

Lisa Cazoulat, Abel Charmatz, Marguerite Chassé, Tikal Contant-Ricard, Noé Couderc, Eliott Bourseau, Sasha Goasduff-Langlois, Salomé Lebreton, Louane Mogis, Lou-Andréa Paulet, Emma Perreau

Yves Godin

Olivier Renouf

Artefact, Frédéric Vannieuwenhuyse, Alexandre Diaz

Erwan Keravec

Julien Jeanne

Laure Fonvieille

Voice work
Dalila Khatir

Digital orchestration
Luccio Stiz

General stage manager
Antoine Guilloux

Stage managers
Max Potiron, François Aubry

Sound direction
Pierre Routin

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National de la Communauté française

Musée de la danse/Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne, Association supported by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication (Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles/Bretagne), Ville de Rennes, Conseil régional de Bretagne, Conseil général d’Ille-et-Vilaine

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Festival d’Avignon, Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, Festival d’Automne (Paris), Internationales Sommerfestival (Hamburg), Siemens Stiftung in the framework of SCHAUPLÄTZE, Théâtre National de Bretagne (Rennes), La Bâtie – Festival de Genève

With the special support of
Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Conseil régional de Bretagne, Ville de Rennes, Rennes Métropole

International tour supported by
l’Institut français, Ville de Rennes, l’Ambassade de France en Belgique

Thanks to
Or Avishay, Pierre Mathiaut, Julia Cima, Raimund Hoghe

Created in Avignon in July 2011

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Interview with Boris Charmatz about enfant
by Gilles Amalvi

What relationship does your new work have with "reality"? How does reality come through?
The thinking behind this piece actually came from another work of mine, régi, which dates from 2005 and features bodies being moved around by machines. In régi, there were lots of real things, but they appeared implicitly or intrinsically. For this piece I wanted to revive régi while putting children at the heart of what we were doing. For example, we had the idea of working with texts published by RESF - the Éducation Sans Frontières network [a pressure group campaigning for the rights of undocumented foreign children in France, Ed.]. Some of the letters written by parents which appeared in RESF's book had a huge impact on me. Of course it's not going to be about representing the struggle of undocumented immigrant children, but rather about swallowing this material, digesting it, incorporating it, taking it somewhere else: showing sleeping children and machines... while maintaining a relationship with reality.

enfant is at the heart of a network of combined influences, with régi as its anchor point, a place for asking questions again. Children are a way of updating it, together with the current political situation you've just mentioned with RESF. How did these different elements all come together?
I chose to start with régi, which perhaps represents the most intimate aspect of my work, by telling myself that it could be a way of kicking off the process. I'd always wanted to work on régi again. I was left slight dissatisfied by it, partly because the tours of it suddenly stopped. And I really like the idea of a series. The three versions of Mallarmé's L'après-midi d'un faune fascinate me. People always think of the final version, but in fact each one is autonomous in its own right and expresses different things. The idea of "reworking" often suggests dissatisfaction, whereas each version can be of value in its own right. For me the starting point was imagining a "régi 2". Then you have to see how you can open up this proposition. First of all I thought of the sound: how could I open it up musically? The work in régi was very closed with just machines - the sound of machines and Michael Jackson's voice. The second principle of openness comes from the presence of children as a way of "revealing" régi. The titles I thought of testify to the different stages of reflection: I initially thought of "un enfant", a child, but didn't like it. It might suggest a family relationship. With "a child" the connotation is more with family than with politics, "the child", "a child"; whereas enfant [child] is basically more abstract. It's not a story, it's not "that child" and it's not "the children". Lots of titles combine "the child", for example Ravel's The Child and the Spells. enfant on its own doesn't say anything. And it's also the simplest title I've ever found. The most open one.

Childhood has evidently inspired performances, clichés and fantasies. How do you want to tackle the "material" of the child? What does it mean for you?
I think the connotations around this word have evolved a lot. Thirty years ago when you said "child", it made you think of songs, games and innocence. That's still the case now, but you also hear threats in school, paedophilia, fear of unemployment and pollution for example. The question of "childhood" and "youth" is continually shifting and I sense that it's becoming increasingly politicised. In 1968, it was students who were demonstrating. Now it's secondary school students, schoolchildren even. Think of the RESF's struggle. Think of police officers going to arrest children at school. And this issue has been well and truly hijacked by politicians. Terrifying spectres are continually being stirred up. People use fears - such as the fear of paedophilia - to bring more pressure to bear on children. It comes through advertising, the child-consumer, pressure on families, the requirement to file information, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility...

Claiming the artistic view of childhood is wrong is part of this hypocrisy, part of this two-faced approach. Does your way of tackling this piece include a strategy of displacement with regard to projections on childhood and any ensuing controversies?
We mustn't forget that in the 1980s, Jean-Claude Gallotta literally dumped children on stage in one of his plays. Naked children in just their shoes and socks. I think it was Hommage à Yves P. It wasn't a problem for anyone at the time. Now not only would it be impossible - we'd be banned from doing it immediately - but I realised that even the photo of this show - in a book on Gallotta - had been reprinted in a tiny format. That says something, I think, about how our performances have evolved. Children have the right to nudity up to a certain age - they're stark naked on the beach. And this entitlement is being challenged - not because it would be a problem for them, but rather because they would be allowing themselves to be seen by adults who are obviously perverts. Being seen would corrupt them, it would put them in danger. It's how society sees things and that prevails over the child. And suddenly it also limits the scope of artistic exploration where what we see is rightly at the centre. As for what's projected onto the piece, I think I've given up predicting or worrying about what people are going to project onto my work. I like the position of the "blind" artist who offers things without presupposing how they'll be received. Whatever it is, I don't want any political aspect to it; I want this issue of how we see childhood to be the only angle of attack. These are the reflections underlying the project, but it's primarily a choreographic piece.

What choreographic principles, feelings and states would you like to work on with the children?
I'd like to tackle the theme of sleep - playing with inertia, being inert and sleep. When I talk to children working on the piece, sleep is a notion that they really understand, grasping its different levels, such as strangeness, fear and release... "Inert" covers a large network of meanings which includes sleep, drugs, death, dream, mass and weight... And inert is a question I often ask in my work: at the Dance Museum for example, mobile and immobile are regularly implied. The inert is something else. An inert object is not necessarily immobile; it can be set in motion. This is precisely the nuance I'd like to play with in enfant.

At the Musée de la danse's expo zéro, there have already been "manipulations" of children, for example during the collective "sculpture-bondage".
The Musée de la danse - and expo zéro in particular - provides a matrix for lots of projects, and not just my own. During this "sculpture-bondage", we attach ourselves with our own clothes. A child featured in the sculpture. In the beginning he wanted to stay with his father, but by the end, when everyone else wanted to stop, he was the only one who wanted to carry on. This is the area you have to manage with children: wanting to, not wanting to, being afraid... It's a very symbolic area that needs to be tackled cleverly. I think that's my answer to whatever people project onto it: doing meticulous, subtle work from a choreographic point of view as well as in the networks of meaning and symbols which will be stirred up.

Basically the question is not so much about "showing children on stage", but finding out what can be done with them and how to use this energy to challenge how we see them...
That's right. It's the first idea I had. Instead of having children prancing about, singing and playing on stage, we'd be seeing children asleep, seeing them moved, manipulated - which is a much stranger way of approaching their presence. To start with, the audience is going to see them moving, but they're not doing anything. Perhaps this will give rise to several imaginary projections, recalling child-like gestures such as rocking or pretending to be a plane... What gestures do you do with children? How do you touch them? Children learn by touch, the way they're carried... And yet just by saying this word, touch, I get the feeling I've said something forbidden.

Children dance at a very young age and there are lots of dance workshops for them, but paradoxically very few pieces actually include them. Are there works which made an impression on you and influenced you in this, such as Petit Projet de la matière?
You must remember that in the past few years, children - as well as amateurs, the old, different bodies and untrained bodies - have taken up an important place in dance. I feel I'm getting involved in a field that already exists. And as a spectator, I was influenced by the Victoria group projects which made works of art with children. I discovered Alain Platel through working with children. But it's true that seeing Anne-Karine Lescop's Petit Projet de la matière made me see how huge the possibilities of exploring with children were. When I danced with Odile Duboc on the Projet de la Matière, we worked a lot on inertia and the sensation of weight. And seeing these sensations picked up by children - some of whom were very young - and seeing them dance with their eyes closed, seeing this release, this quasi-sleep triggered something in me.

The children's bodies will be operated by mechanisms, external forces, a little like unconscious principles. Is there an allegorical value to it?
Again, I hope that everything is going to stay open. The machines don't represent power, the state or rules manipulating poor inert bodies. For me - from an almost utopian point of view - it is about a choreography for bodies which no longer need to expend muscle energy. Bodies from science fiction or bodies from the funfair - taken, carried away. As a matter of fact, it's more about mental movement. The machines manipulating bodies are as much the mental emanations of the dancers as they are of the choreographer or the audience. What's interesting with these machines - both in régi and in this piece - is that we don't know who is directing them. It could be the bodies on stage, the stage manager, the choreographer - or ultimately the audience... For the audience, there is an effect of action by remote control - as if they're seeing their own brains influencing other bodies. It makes me think of the research going on at the moment in neuroscience where implants allow you to move an arm by remote control. The thought action becomes realised action.

Starting from this principle - children, adult dancers and machines - did you already have ideas of how to combine them with exchanges and possible inversions of these different parameters?
Yes, I'm thinking of a piece in four parts, starting with a series of pairings. For example, at the start, machines choreographing the bodies of inert adults. I'd then like to move on to adults manipulating sleeping children before a third part undoes this pairing and adults and children all join in a dance. I've just finished working on Levée des conflits, and in my head I still have the spiral used in this piece. I explain to the children that it's like a Red Indian dance. A dance in a circle where some of them rotate around others. The adult dancers could dance round the children. They've "made them dance" and they could also start "dancing for them" by addressing them. For me it's also a dance children could join in with: joining the dance and, why not, "inverting" us - without actually producing a slightly binary "inversion" of powers. On this subject, I often think of Hitchcock's The Birds: there's something about it which reminds me of a beehive. The idea that a mass of children can carry away the bodies of sleeping, inert adults and take them somewhere else. One or two children can't do much with an adult's body, but five, six or seven of them can do anything. That could produce a rather funny affect because they're going to have fun with these bodies, but a harrowing and violent one as well. They can release us or hold on to us - it's up to them.

How are you going to work with the children in practical terms?
Initially we advertised for people to join us and held some workshops. During the first weekend, we started with games - playing at being planes, being pulled by your feet etc. And at the end, I said: "Now we're swapping over". The adults lay down and let themselves be manipulated. That's when I saw Hitchcock's The Birds, the beehive and the ants... And I said to myself: this is the end of the piece, an idea that can seize the space - children carrying adult bodies away. Then during a second weekend we tried developing the working principles: for example building up images from the children brought on stage. Or principles of working on a production line: taking a child to a place - then the next one - passing them along. Living chains where children would move forward, but the adults would remain immobile. And a third type of work where, in contrast, the adults dance and move forward and as they go along they displace the children. I'm trying to weave in different speeds and categories of work...

Boris Charmatz was interviewed by Gilles Amalvi in January 2011 for the Festival d'Automne à Paris 2011

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Dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz is the creator of a series of distinctive pieces, from Aatt enen tionon (1996) to enfant (2011). In parallel he has continued to work as a performer and improviser with Saul Williams, Archie Shepp and primarily Médéric Collignon. Director of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Rennes et de Bretagne since January 2009, Boris Charmatz has turned it into a new kind of manifesto-driven Musée de la danse . The museum has already played host to préfiguration, expo zéro, héliogravures, rebutoh, Grimace du réel, service commandé, brouillon, Jérôme Bel en 3 sec, 30 sec, 3 min, 30 min, 3 h and Une école d’art and has travelled to Saint Nazaire, Singapore, Utrecht, Avignon and New York. Associate artist of the 2011 Festival d’Avignon, Boris Charmatz premiered enfant in the Cour d’honneur of the Palais des Papes, a piece for 26 children, 9 dancers and 3 machines, and presented Une école d’art, a joint project between the Dance Museum and the Festival d’Avignon. In residence at the Centre National de la Danse (2003-2004), he initiated Bocal, a nomadic, ephemeral school for around fifteen students from various backgrounds. As a guest teacher at the Berlin University of the Arts, he was involved in developing a new dance curriculum which was launched in 2007. With Isabelle Launay he co-wrote Entretenir/à propos d’une danse contemporaine (Centre national de la danse/ Les Presses du Réel/ 2003) and then wrote “Je suis une école”, published by Les Prairies Ordinaires.

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