W.I.T.C.H.E.S Constellation

    18/05  | 20:00
    19/05  | 20:00
    20/05  | 20:00

€16 / €13 (-25/65+)
± 1h 30min

Meet the artists after the performance on 19/05

For centuries the term ‘witch’ has referred to women who – due to their intelligence, non-conformism, and independence – were considered dangerous and undesirable. In reality, it was about women who not only dared to be inspired but who were also courageous, curious, sexually liberated, and revolutionary. In recent years, the idea of witchcraft has seen a revival, mainly within the activist circles of artists, feminists, queers, and ecologists who – as a reaction to oppression – strive for a more ethical and less individualistic order of existence. This makes witchcraft today a metaphor for militant otherness. With W.I.T.C.H.E.S Constellation, choreographer/ dancer Latifa Laâbissi connects these ideas with her own practice. The evening is conceived as a kind of soirée composée in which different art forms come together: Laâbissi presents Witch noises, which is directly inspired by Mary Wigman and her Danse de la sorcière (1926), while artist-performer Paul Maheke provides a performative installation. Further, there’s a workshop with Laâbissi and researcher/curator Anna Colin. Dare to join this constellation!

See also
Workshop Alternatives sorcières with public presentation 20/05 – 18:00

Witch noises
by & with 
Latifa Laâbissi

Costume design 
Nadia Lauro

Yves Godin


Olivier Renouf

Technical direction 
Ludovic Rivière

Thanks to 
Mary Anne Santos Newhall

A Familiar Familial Place of Confusion
Paul Maheke

In collaboration with 
Alix Maheke

With the support of 
Galerie Sultana, Chisenhale Gallery & Davidoff Arts Initiative

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Charleroi danse

Figure Project

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Charleroi danse – Centre chorégraphique de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, VIADANSE (Belfort), La Passerelle (Saint-Brieuc), CN D – Pantin, CCN2 (Grenoble), Le Triangle (Rennes), ICI (Montpellier)

Musée de la Danse – CCNRB (Rennes), La Ménagerie de Verre as part of Studiolab

With the support of 
the French Institute & the French Embassy in Belgium, in the frame of EXTRA

Figure Project is a « Compagnie à rayonnement national et international – CERNI », with the support of the ministry of Culture - DRAC Bretagne. Figure Project has the support of Département d’Ille-et-Vilaine, Conseil Régional de Bretagne & the city of Rennes

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Witch dance in different times
By tackling a key piece of twentieth century choreography, Latifa Laâbissi offers an understanding of how playing with eras and temporality can affect the meaning of works.  

It would always be the same piece. But nothing would ever be the same. 

To be more precise, it would draw on the same source, but the flow emanating from it would continually be diverted to improve irrigation. This paradox in Witch Noises is all the more exciting because its source is both a myth and an enigma. 

The myth is that of Hexentanz (Witch Dance in English). There were two versions of this piece: one in 1914 and another more polished version in 1926. It is a solo danced by its choreographer Mary Wigman who was a leading female figure in modern dance in Germany between the wars – all too often reduced to the single term “expressionist”. 

The enigma is that she insisted on the brevity of Hexentanz: no more than eight minutes. A brevity intensified by the only trace left of it: a one-minute-thirty-two-second film made at the time, but long enough to convey its breath-taking power and arouse curiosity. Mary Wigman said that it contained the very essence of her art form and that these gestures had passed through her, as if they had come from elsewhere, like a rhythmic intoxication

One century on and this moment in dance has haunted Latifa Laâbissi’s work for many years. On the French artistic scene and in these days of the most current critical thinking, this choreographer and performer works on the body and on minority figures, yet there is no reason to be surprised that her contemporary approach is accompanied by a sustained interest in such heritage.

Modern German dance in the inter-war years was influenced by the Life Reform movement. The politics of the body was a driving force in the emancipatory experiences of the artists involved, thus explaining its topical resonance. But there it more to it than that. Being dedicated to revivals of the repertoire means touching on the ever-topical issue of interpretation.  

With pieces form the repertoire, does it involve reconstituting illusory and unchanging forms? Or generating a variety of shocks in the readings of a past while sustaining interpretations created in the present? Although seemingly about art, this tension says a lot about the political stance in the world, in this case the aspect of understanding its history.Understanding what we are looking for. An authority from the past? Or challenging it?  

Today it is easy to recognise two long danced sequences in Latifa Laâbissi’s Witch Noises. Without any background information, you might think that they have little in common, yet both come from Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz. They are seen from two interpretative angles, however, using two strategies, radically distinct and implemented one after the other, but ultimately devised jointly by one and the same artist: Latifa Laâbissi. 

First of all, Écran somnambule captures the projections of a ghostly presence. Its material comes from a film lasting one minute and thirty-two seconds, which resulted in Witch Dance being engraved with almost mythical power on a great many minds. And yet here the gestures are extended to a running time of thirty-two minutes. A radically unusual approach, this interpretative bias intends to dilute the graphic sharpness of the form. Startling lighting by Yves Godin encourages audience empathy in understanding the flows of tension animating the dancer. Brilliantly and by way of exception, this takes us behind the mirror and into contact with a contorted physical interiority, while remaining aware of the abyss. Visual artist and stage designer Nadia Lauro’s costume, like the mask, goes beyond the observation of choices made by Mary Wigman in her day in order to contribute to the dramaturgy of Latifa Laâbissi’s contemporary gesture. 

Ultimately, while time is elongated in this approach, it is clear that everything here is part of a temporal consideration in the approach to the choreographic material. It relates to the effectiveness of the gesture now unfolded, as it does to history and the present day. What figure of a witch inspired Mary Wigman’s imagination and her understanding of her place as a woman in German society in those times? What topicality does this same figure have now, reworked by feminist, environmental and queer activist groups?  

The radical choice of Écran somnambule initially came about from a suggestion for “re-butoh”. Choreographer Boris Charmatz, director of Musée de la Danse in Rennes, came up with the idea. He asked several artists – including Latifa Laâbissi – to dream of what a reactivated butoh might be like at the heart of choreographic practices today. In this very movement, the founder of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, described his own art as a way of “strangling time”.

Seen from this angle, it would also be necessary to take the latest analyses into consideration, which point to the impact that Germany expressionist dance had on the Japanese artists who went on to create butoh. Even so it was in a post-war Europe, particularly France, which wanted to nothing more to do with German heritage that butoh caused such a stir. It sounds like a return of of the repressed in which the gestures convey a lot more that is apparent. Latifa Laâbissi appears to be tackling a kind of subconscious of dance. 

The composition of time is an outcome of the danced gesture. The temporal parameter is not merely a neutral and empty frame to be filled. Using this data, Écran somnambule by Latifa Laâbissi involved extreme experimentation. Her entire piece now has the title Witch Noises. It is also to do with sounds, noises that Witch Dance makes. The political motif of the witch. In the world.  

Cookie, the musician, listened to the available sound archive to work out the instruments that were likely to have accompanied the 1926 piece. Like something from a Murnau film and with a shamanic feel to it, Cookie played with the cimbalom, bass tom drum, Chinese gong and xylophone. It initially seemed like an interlude. Then a second longer danced sequence was developed lasting eight minutes: Hexentanz’s running time in 1926. And it looks like Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance, at least in the eyes of another choreographic artist. Mary Anne Santos Newhall is an American

choreographer, dancer and dance historian, and fascinated by Mary Wigman’s legacy in the United States. The German artist’s boldness made a considerable impact there. Her technique was assiduously communicated, notably by her collaborator Hanya Holm, who she sent across the Atlantic for a period of time with exactly that goal in mind. Mary Wigman banned Hexentanz from being performed by anyone but herself, but accepted the principle of an educational transmission of this key piece so that her work could be understood. Mary Anne Santos Newhall benefited from this, via Hanya Holm, and she studied archives, articles and various documents. It is a slightly academic tradition for a work to be reconstituted in line with a model thought to be as accurate as possible. 

  Latifa Laâbissi was then able to use this material as the source for a new interpretation that has produced Witch Noises. The gesture of tackling a sequel to the famous one-minute-thirty-two-second film, which until then was the only way of seeing, was staggering. This reflection was revived when the American version examined the  effectiveness of a visual archetype of the witch, whereas up to that point Latifa Laâbissi had instead explored a form created by her subconscious.

In a reinterpretation of history, the mark made by this modern German heritage on American choreographic modernity is to be borne in mind when the official history of dance keeps emphasising the antagonism between these two aesthetic trends. Latifa Laâbissi came to contemporary dance at a time when it was being carried along by the American option of a formalist and abstract dance. She remembers how her first approaches to the German dance seemed almost transgressive in such a context.  

These echoes, returns and recoveries for which Latifa Laâbissi extends a possibility of gestures are not done and dusted. Tackling dances that were so powerful and disturbing in their time, her approach does not put the audience at ease by allowing them to merely recognise what is already known. Quite the opposite: it is about feeling, probing and reflecting on forms of dread, bewitchment and enchantment that we hope are still very much at play.  

Gérard Mayen, Dance critic  

A familiar familial place of confusion

Paul Maheke, in collaboration with his sister Alix and brother Simon, will be offering a performance combining dance, video, text and sound composition as part of his research on the notion of the body as an archive and its articulation with memory and identities. Questioning the relationships of power and constraint exercised on the black and queer body, his proposition explores forms of performance using visual references ranging from Michael Jackson to the cosmologies of Bas Congo.

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Latifa Laâbissi was born in Grenoble (France) in 1964. From her very first creations, Latifa Laâbissi has made the body a place of politics. She ventures to produce a dance where the aesthetic, poetic and political are joined in one and the same gesture in order to question relationships of power and domination always at play in contemporary society. She confronts this approach to reality and opens it up to her own history, which has been marked by racial stereotypes – the kind that shapes identities. In all her pieces and research projects, she produces novel representations of a wild, comical and intimate body populated by images that ask questions as much as they disturb. The figure of the witch, the female warrior and archaic woman, tribal nudity and the ghost are all incarnations that take shape on stage to shift the expectations of an audience caught in their own stereotypes. The figures in Latifa Laâbissi’s pieces glide into the rifts of our collective imaginations to powerfully conjure up the presence of the marginalised and minorities, barely visible, disturbing identities, the kind that the choreographer calls “toxic figures” and that have this healthy ability to generate a mise-enabyme critique of our collective story, of history, of histories and how we see it. 

Anna Colin is an exhibition curator, educator and researcher. She cofounded and co-runs the Open School East in Margate in the UK, an informal teaching and communal space dedicated to artistic development and encounters and the exchange of knowledge and expertise between different communities – artistic, local and others. She has also been associate curator at Lafayette Anticipations – a foundation of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris – since 2014 and is a PhD student at the School of Geography at Nottingham University where she is undertaking transhistorical and geographic research on alternative learning and social space. With Lydia Yee, Anna Colin was co-curator of the touring exhibition British Art Show 8 (Leeds, Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton) in 2015-2016. Prior to this she was co-director of Bétonsalon, an arts and research centre in Paris (2011-2012), associate curator of La Maison populaire in Montreuil (2012) and exhibition curator at the Gasworks in London (2007-2010).  

Paul Maheke (born 1985, Brive-la-Gaillarde, France) lives and works in London. He completed an MA in Art Practice at the École nationale supérieure d’arts in Cergy (2011) and was an associate of Open School East’s programme of study in London (2015), with a focus on dance. Through a varied and often collaborative body of work comprising performance, installation, sound and video, Maheke considers the potential of the body as an archive in order to examine how memory and identity are formed and constituted. He took part in exhibitions in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, Venice Biennale. In 2018 the Chisenhale Gallery in London will be presenting his first major solo presentation in a UK institution.  

Born in Paris in 1967, self-taught musician Henri Bertrand “Cookie” Lesguillier has been playing the drums since early childhood. He also took classical dance lessons for four years. In parallel with his music, in 1986 he started training in the techniques of the performing arts (stage, lighting, sound) and worked for around fifteen years as a sound engineer on various artistic projects (music, theatre and dance). He spent a year studying at the Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood, graduating as a professional musician in 2004. Since his teenage years he has recorded and played in various groups. In 1996 he met the choreographer Loïc Touzé and started questioning the relationship between music and dance around notions of improvisation and composition. This led to him developing an open sound universe on the drums, ranging from acoustic climate to “noise” music. In 2001, he took part in the project Phasmes by the choreographer Latifa Laâbissi, in which he performed live the percussion from the score of La danse de la sorcière (Hexentanz) by Mary Wigman and Angst by Dore Hoyer. This collaboration has continued with the duet Witch Noises (2018). Since 2010, he has composed or performed music for several pieces by the choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas: Guintche (2010), de marfim e carne – as estátuas também sofrem (2014) and Bacantes – Prelúdio para uma Purga (2017).

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