Levée des conflits

Performance for 24 dancers

Théâtre National

26, 27, 28/05 – 20:15
1h 45min

Inspired by a piece of writing by Roland Barthes on the notion of “neutral”, Levée des conflits could be described as a choreographic sequence of twenty-five movements performed in canon by twenty-four dancers. A simple principle, but only on the face of it because this difference between the two numbers creates a “dance hole” that ensures the perpetual circulation of bodies. As the stage fills up – then empties – a dynamic field is created from elementary particles. The repeated movements are subject to countless variations of light and sound. Alone but together, the dancers compose an exponential score which, while proceeding in loops, continuously reveals itself to be surprising and protean. Boris Charmatz, associate artist at the next Festival d’Avignon, returns to the Kunstenfestivaldesarts with a hyperkinetic show starting from an almost minimalist concept and achieving a hypnotic vortex of contagious energy. Essential viewing!

Boris Charmatz

Assisted by
Anne-Karine Lescop

Or Avishay, Eleanor Bauer, Nuno Bizarro, Matthieu Burner, Magali Caillet-Gajan, Boris Charmatz, Sonia Darbois, Olga Dukhovnaya, Olivia Grandville, Gaspard Guilbert, Taoufiq Izeddiou, Dominique Jégou, Lénio Kaklea, Jurij Konjar, Élise Ladoué, Catherine Legrand, Maud Le Pladec, Naiara Mendioroz, Thierry Micouin, Andreas Albert Müller, Mani A. Mungai, Felix Ott, Annabelle Pulcini, Fabrice Ramalingom

Yves Godin

Olivier Renouf

Luccio Stiz

Henry Cowell, Colon Nancarrow, Helmut Lachenmann, Morton Feldman

With excerpts from
David Banner, Médéric Collignon Jus de Bosce, Miles Davis, Daniel Johnston, Electric Masada, Angus McColl, RZA, Terror Squad, Saul Williams, Zeitkratze

Stage manager
Fabrice Le Fur

Costumes collaboration
Laure Fonvieille

Thanks to
Marlène Monteiro-Freitas, Dominique Jégou, Katja Fleig, Margot Joncheray, Carlos Maria Romero, aux étudiants de la formation en danse HZT (Berlin, promotion 2010), aux résidents du Pavillon, laboratoire de création du Palais de Tokyo, ainsi qu’à toutes les personnes qui ont participé aux différentes étapes de recherche

With special thanks to
Vincent Druguet & Odile Duboc

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National de la Communauté française

Musée de la danse/Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne
Coproduction Théâtre National de Bretagne a Rennes, Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), Festival d’Automne a Paris, Manifesta 8 (Murcia, Cartagena), ERSTE Foundation

Supported by
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Teatro Maria Matos (Lisbon), Chassé Theater (Breda)

This project is supported by
Culturesfrance, Ville de Rennes, L’Ambassade de France en Belgique

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Interview with Boris Charmatz

The title of this play [Suspension of conflicts, Ed.] is quite rich in polysemic terms. It can make you think of suspension in terms of the suspension of gravity for example. ‘Levée’ can refer to the “lifting of bodies”. And it also contains the word conflict too. Is it a suspension of conflict in the sense of conflict in bodies?
The idea of suspension – the absence of gravity – is correct. I’d tend now towards saying that this is more the direction I’m after. I had the title in mind for quite a while, and sometimes I find it a little heavy, precisely because of the world “conflict”. The play could just be called Levée; it would be more abstract. But then you’d lose part of what the play involves. It contains part of the paradox: in this piece there’s a desire to leave confrontation or battle behind – even if these are the affects I work with! I’d really like to create a project called Battle. I like wild improvisation. But after pieces like La Danseuse malade and Régi – both of which involve a dramaturgy full of contrasts – I think I wanted to do a piece without a dramaturgy, one that doesn’t play on tensions or contrasts. Where people don’t ask questions like who’s going to get his head bashed in? Where? When? Levée des conflits doesn’t have a dramaturgyin the proper sense of the word. In a certain way it doesn’t contain a drama either – even if dramaturgy and drama are not exactly the same thing... You could say that the dance simply takes place. And at the same time, you could almost say that it doesn’t take place. There’s no climax or key event; it’s always in the process of being put together and taken apart.

Levée des conflits also refers to the way in which Roland Barthes defines “neutral”.
Yes,all that appeared when I was reading Barthes – even if what he develops with regard to neutral is quite different from my mode of creation at that time. I read The Neutral during the Bocal school project and it contained ideas like “the exhaustion of pedagogues” and “the marathon of pedagogy”. Lots of our exercises gave conflict the name disputatio. We wanted to put disputatio at the heart of the school. All that is quite a long way from what you can understand from the term neutral. Up to this point, I’d always hated the idea of neutral in dance... It seemed a useless pursuit to me; part of my work is built against the idea that a neutral place can exist. On the contrary, for me everything is context. That said, Barthes presents the neutral not as a “new ideal law” but rather as a desire... I think this is what struck me when I read his notes. For him, it’s not about an end to conflicts. It’s an attempt, a desire: a desire to suspend conflicts. But even if this interpretation were taken into account, I wouldn’t want “neutral” to be like a slogan or advert. To come back to the piece, I think that the neutral takes place in the bodies: there are twenty-six of us. All movements made by these twenty-six people are always being seen – like singing in a round. I’d like the bodies to be in a state of permeability: a movement is given, you learn it, you swap it... without tension, without opposing contrasts between the protagonists.

You also describe this piece as a sort of sculpture. Does the experience of being director of the Musée de la danse generate ideas in your choreographic work, does it redefine their framework?
Yes, the term “sculpture” came to me when I was thinking about the Musée de la danse. To start with, the idea was to do a moving piece, but one that gives the type of immobile look you get with a sculpture. A piece that is both in movement and completely fixed – it’s an archetypal object to be exhibited, contemplated, available to be seen... Today, I would say it’s more of a “subliminal image” being unleashed than a sculpture... Perhaps it’s the result of working on the Cunningham project with the book’s three hundred photos. For Levée des conflits, it would be about inventing one photo and this fixed image unleashing a set of activities. This type of passage or stretching – spreading, dispersing movement – in the end is also very close to the Musée de la danse. There’s a whole host of lines of work going on within the Musée de la danse. Among this piece’s “exhibition modes”, I think you could have it performed in a public square, a large museum hall, a station... or in a theatre. I hope that it’s a piece that will have real value when performed in a theatre. The idea is to operate a simple gesture: to transform theatre into an installation or a museum perhaps. The spectators will come, there’ll be an object on stage, and they can stay and watch it move... That said, this idea can only work if the piece is stretched in time... and I have no desire to play on exhaustion – that would be “anti-neutral”...

The idea would be to succeed in “dedramatising” all levels of looking at the piece?
Yes, and at the same time I’d like to have real physical games taking place within this form which of necessity involves fatigue. I don’t know if the piece will be able to last longer than two hours. My ideal would be for it to last for four hours. But if the audience starts wondering whether the dancers will be able to keep it up for that long, then you go into a different type of observation... I don’t want to enter a “marathon” where the dance starts falling apart because the performers are tired. Of course, I like to see bodies move around and get tired, but that doesn’t always have to be the case...

The idea of the neutral in Barthes contains a form of utopia – a way of being together, of sociability. Is this concern reflected in Levée des conflits?
At the moment I’ve got the feeling that this piece is oscillating between two ways of writing the word “polis”: “polis” and “police”. Twenty-six people form a large group within which a whole game of social relationships, indeed even a certain image of sociality, circulates. The choreography itself passes from body to body: what is the link between these bodies – even if they don’t touch one another – and how do they communicate? And then, you have to wonder how to position the piece in the city, in spaces that have their own rules. For me those are the problems linked to “polis”. At the same time, in the form there is a kind of “police”: if the form is poorly executed, then the immobile image doesn’t appear. You just see 30 people moving around. The piece demands very precise writing, very precise control.

It contains both sides of utopia: its apparent harmony and the restrictive rules underlying it. How do the rules operate in Levée des conflits?
It’s a very formal work involving timing and placement in the space. Given that the movements are shared, they are very much written. There’s very little improvisation. I’m in the middle of working on these regulations at the moment. I think it takes one minute for each dancer to move from one movement to the next. Let’s say there are twenty-six movements and one minute between each movement – or each position. Each dancer is only moving from one mental reference point to another – so that at each moment anywhere in the space, there is someone arriving and someone leaving. But I’m in the process of trying out a shift: there is a 40-second interval between the dancers passing from one to the other and one minute between the composition and decomposition of a movement. As a result, the movements are superimposed: while the movement is the process of falling apart to go elsewhere, there is a dancer in the process of picking it up. These are the formal rules, the rules of writing time and space that you have to manage to resolve so that they are as fluid as possible.

Is the idea to end up with a form of “perpetual movement” or does the piece include the possibility of disruption?
That’s a real concern as well. If everything were perfect, it would be a kind of corps de ballet. On the one hand, the dancers have to be trained and precise, but if it ends up in an equalisation of bodies, then it’s failed. A large group that becomes a corps de ballet with no one standing out because everyone’s doing the same thing... that’s no good at all. We’re currently in the middle of oscillating between these questions. For example, at the start of it all I told myself that the choreographic ideal – and ultimately the ideal of the neutral – would be that everyone produces a movement. There are twenty-six of us; that makes twenty-six movements. We teach them to each other, and the choreography consists of passing from one movement to the next. It would an ideal of movement produced by the people doing it. But the problem is that you wouldn’t see each person’s movement appear, you wouldn’t see this ideal – you would only see the passing on. As a result, it wouldn’t really be of any interest. More than anything, I’d like the piece to manage to make an image jump out. As a result, you have to use yourself to draw this image. If this image doesn’t appear, if you only see it being passed on, then it doesn’t work. After working on close to 300 images with the Cunningham project, there’s just one left... It can’t be left to chance; all its coordinates have to be perfectly judged.

The way you describe the piece also brings pointillism to mind: a multitude of independent coloured dots forming an image...
Actually, as with pointillism, we’re trying to create a painting – and there can be something rather hypnotic in this vision. Except that we’re dots continually jumping from one place to another in the painting.... we take on different colours but the picture stays the same.

For Levée des conflits, you talk about a black hole, putting in place time “that doesn’t pass”. Isn’t there a tension in your work towards a form that would cancel itself out?
I see Levée des conflits as a closed circuit. Indeed you could say that it’s a 20 or 30-minute solo except that instead of seeing the solo develop – given that there are twenty-six dancers at different stages of the same development – then you’ll have seen it all in a second and a half! In one sense, there’s a structure collapsing in on itself since you see everything instantaneously. Everything is over before it starts. Well obviously in three seconds the spectators won’t have had time to understand how that works. But, somehow subliminally they’ll have seen everything there is to see…. Afterwards an understanding of the system is left. The sensation of time that has been set... Music can offer a metaphor: this piece is a bit like a canon – but with twenty-six people! And on top of that, we don’t sing, say, “Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormez-vous, dormez-vous?”, but something like “frrr dooo eeej rmm accc eeez”. A game of backwards and forwards bringing the whole of Frère Jacques to life in a second. The 15 seconds of a round compressed into one, with a game of oscillation.

In the end it’s a very meditative work...
Yes, because the spectator who chooses to stay and watch won’t be doing it to see new elements or developments appear. If he stays, it’ll be to give himself time to observe. Time to comprehend as well – because in the end it’s quite complex to grasp. And then I think there’s something very empathetic about seeing movement develop. You follow the rhythm – a bit like waves. And you follow the dancer; you can see the orientation of the gesture, the intention, the process. The process making the arm lift up can be read. And scarcely has the gesture been made than it has already developed in another direction. It also creates a mental game... And the fact of targeting immobility has something impossible about it of course.

The impossible can be found in its production conditions. That must be a difficult subject to produce... and to show.
Yes, this piece plays with limits. It’s a kind of economic aberration. It’s not something you do anymore nowadays – especially for a contemporary form. It’s the format of the corps de ballet. Twenty-six people for The Rite of Spring is still OK – but for a sculpture? At the same time, it’s not that costly: we’re only rehearsing for three weeks. There’s no desire on my part to blow the budget. Besides in terms of performance conditions, these are also the questions posed by heatre-elevision: one spectator at a time and no dancer. Here it’s the other way round: there are twenty-six of us and the piece can be shown to lots of spectators. But how do you get them to watch? How can the entry and the exit be made? How does it take place within the usual way a theatre operates? If you don’t know which end to pick it up, this object can appear hollow. It poses questions to everyone: to programme planners, spectators, dancers and the choreographer...

In the end, the piece itself is an area of calm and contemplation, but who can bring out the tensions around it?
Yes, that’s why I sometimes wonder whether Levée des conflits is the right title for it! And the “conflicts” are far from being resolved. The dramaturgical conflict I was talking about is resolved on the level of the dynamic of the bodies, but even so there’s the music, the lighting and questions of type: how to start the piece, which mechanisms are triggered... I was thinking that the soundtrack for it could be the Roland Barthes’ series on the neutral, one after the other, a performance about the other – and you’d stop when you’ve gone all the way round. I also dream of self-generated sound and light... Twenty-six breathings, the scratching of the steps – that can be very beautiful too. I don’t know. The option of silence can work, but I think you still have to support the dancers. And it’s a fairly primitive option, perhaps a little serious, a little sad. I wouldn’t want it to be a serious piece.

Interview by Gilles Amalvi
Translation: Claire Tarring

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Boris Charmatz (°1973) co-founded the Edna association in 1992. Together with Dimitri Chamblas he formed the remarkable duo A bras le corps. He received the author award at the Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis with Aatt enen tionon (1996). He is the author of a series of groundbreaking pieces, including Con forts Fleuve (1999) and Régi (2006), co-written with Raimund Hoghe. Charmatz also remained active as an actor and improviser. He developed such atypical projects as Bocal, a touring one-day school with fifteen students of different nationalities (2003-2004) in the context of a residency at the Centre national de la danse (CND) in Pantin. As a visiting lecturer at the Berlin University of the Arts he made a series of contributions to a new dance course that was inaugurated in 2007. Boris Charmatz is also a director and writer. He has been running the Centre national chorégraphique de Rennes et de Bretagne since 2009.

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