The Biennale has three core missions: supporting the production of new work, showing the aesthetic diversity of dance, and helping the public to gain its bearings and thus find its way around this teeming creativity. What always comes first for me is the power of a piece, irrespective of register: contemporary, hip hop, neo-classical, circus, performance, dances from around the world… This is why the Lyon Dance Biennale has popular appeal but is experimental too and can resonate on Place Bellecour amid a 15,000-strong crowd or in a room of 120 spectators.
This year’s Biennale features 23 new pieces and French premieres. Above all, it’s a panorama of new work today – a snapshot of this profuse art form, from which a number of ‘force lines’ emerge. For this edition, we will highlight the dialogue between highbrow dance and popular dance, which is clearly apparent in current output.
Indeed. What we appear to be seeing today is dance being revitalised by other forms, and particularly through drawing on popular kinds of artistic language that were previously excluded. Artists who went through an extremely rigorous Deconstructionist period are now tapping into the absolute freedom of poetic fantasy, physical exertion, the intimacy of portraiture, narrative, and conversation between stage dance and anonymous dance. Yet this is no backward-looking, nostalgia-fuelled return to the past. I am very pleased that the Biennale de Lyon will stage the new piece by Olivier Dubois, who militates for “the intelligence of sensation”. Christian Rizzo takes inspirations from the dance which he has abundantly partaken in at clubs; Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud will continue to insatiably open up the realm of contemporary dance to other disciplines; just like Alessandro Sciarroni, who is creating a new piece for the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon. The choreographic objective of Olivia Grandville’s new work is to produce a profusion of gestures involving exertion: jumping, running, spinning, throwing oneself to the floor – “kinds of impetus very different from my previous piece,” she announces. This tendency is also reflected in Sound of Music by Yan Duyvendak, co-devised with Olivier Dubois, Christophe Fiat and Michael Helland. Duyvendak, originally a conceptual artist, who describes the show as an encounter between pleasure and meaning, is relaxed about combining a political piece with the format of a musical, “because it’s beautiful and makes you feel good”. He readily embraces the idea of pleasure, long viewed as suspect in France.
I’ve often felt that, in the field of contemporary choreography, the earnest and the profound were unable to go hand-in-hand with sensuality, beauty or aesthetic pleasure. Perhaps this is due to the French mind, which separates physical and mental, seriousness and pleasure? Personally, I love the current period and its state of flux… The rich array of values covered by aesthetic pleasure excludes no topic or demanding artistic standard. I don’t mean to say that it’s the only value, or the highest value of art, but nor should it be treated with systematic distrust – especially as pleasure often exists in tandem with a human impact that is doing us good today. To examine the subject in greater depth, the Biennale will host an academic study day, open to all, that carries the title “Dance: just for pleasure?” and will explore the history of dance through the prism of the antagonism between Dionysian and Appollonian pleasure.
I don’t think the illusion of full-on combat should be maintained… To paraphrase Yuri Dombrovsky, I would say that “now more than ever, man is in need of uselessness”. As we face an uncertain world, let’s respond by exercising the finest art; our rampart is the power of art for its own sake… Artworks must not necessarily have a function, and it’s for this reason that they are indispensable. Bodies, through their imaginative ability, are able to challenge the order of the sensory world and put forward fresh configurations. I feel that this power of invention makes a work political because it opens up new fields to the practice and aesthetics of dance.
I don’t wish to have a divisive attitude regarding “political art” and “art for art’s sake”; the two approaches have long co-existed and are both interesting. For more than a century, dance has mirrored the deep upheavals that have shaken societies. But I note that the artists now addressing political subjects are doing so in a far more complex way. Condemnation has given way to more sensitive and embodied approaches. It is a far cry from over-emphatic militant art – and it’s stimulating! Politics can be found in the form, in how a piece relates to the socio-cultural context, in the topic or references… The exhibition at the Musée des Confluences, with a specific lead-in to the subject of the art/politics relationship, is most enlightening in this respect.
I naturally think of Alain Platel, whose work is always totally plugged into the disorders in our world, with his extremely singular and profound perspective on what it means to be human. Bouchra Ouizguen, with her Aita performers, will develop her approach combining politics and Moroccan tradition. Marina Mascarell, one of this Biennale’s discoveries, will stage an openly feminist piece borne by the virtuoso skill of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon’s dancers. Greek performer Euripides Laskaridis will massacre social conventions in his preposterous cabaret. Roy Assaf will address the Six Day War and how brutal the conflict was for young Israelis on “the hill”. I am also very pleased that the Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger’s first self-authored piece will come into being at the Biennale de Lyon. Their creation will mark a watershed – an aesthetic and political emancipation.
I see no salvation other than school and art education. I’m sure that for some young people, experiencing aesthetics is the only way they can explore some of the big questions, to do with openness and humanity. The Biennale’s political challenge is essentially embodied by the Défilé, which involves a whole year’s work with 5,000 participants, many of whom are disconnected from culture. The purpose of this parade is to bond with society in all of its variety. It is a symbol of an open-minded, fluid society. We work hard so that all the participants come into contact with the programming and can go to see the shows. From now on, the Défilé will end with the performance of a contemporary piece on Place Bellecour. This year, it’s a show by Yoann Bourgeois. This dialogue between popular dance – what you do yourself – and highbrow dance – what you go to see – gives rise to participations and commitments that are the stuff of culture and society. It’s up to us to deepen this bond with the public, to cultivate their taste for new work, and to help them enjoy imaginations other than their own.
The Fabrique du Regard (Studio of Perspective), which truly serves as a school for spectators, attracts about 8,500 people during each edition. I am seeking to invent an inclusive cultural policy, and one of my main objectives is to anchor dance among the general public. The Biennale de Lyon, in partnership with French daily Libération, is hosting a national event: a day of debate around the question “Can culture be a pillar of democratic action, of open-mindedness and tolerance, of personal and collective enrichment?”.
Today, the ravages of defensive inwardness, cultural isolation, and populism are giving artists and cultural institutions a new responsibility, so strongly is the making of art acknowledged as a way to overcome social group-specific and intellectual rigidities. We will ask a central question: can culture make society?
I’m very happy that this exhibition, a project led by the musée des Confluences and co-produced with the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec, is able to echo the Dance Biennale’s programming. The exhibition is based on a parallel between the history of contemporary dance and the history of landmark events in the 20th century. It’s an exhibition intended for everyone – from Novices to professionals – and features an original design with innovative digital exhibits. For instance, visitors can watch video excerpts of seminal dance works from the 20th century.
Interviewed by Maxime Fleuriot