How do you create a dance and talk about it? That is the challenge of Mouvement sur mouvement, in which Noé Soulier reflects on William Forsythe’s improvisation techniques. In particular, he focuses on the gestures used by Forsythe to explain a dance. By dancing these movements that speak about movements, Noé Soulier continues his earlier work on the positions of classical ballet: a delightful inventory of rhetorical gestures.
What does the title of the piece tell us about your work?
I watched William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies closely and repeatedly. It is a series of short videos where Forsythe gives ideas on how to improvise and observe movements. He provides brief examples of improvisation and uses a lot of demonstrative gestures that steer our attention and serve as commentary on other movements. I didn’t notice these gestures at first. Because they were part of his verbal description, they were invisible in the beginning, a bit like the gestures we make spontaneously during a conversation. But I became very interested in them because they speak of other movements. They are reflexive. Through movement, they say something about a movement. That’s where the title of the piece comes from.
What was the first gesture you “modified”?
In fact, I didn’t modify any gestures; I made every effort to reproduce as precisely as possible all of Forsythe’s movements. But I removed the verbal explanations. That completely transforms the status of the movements and the way we watch them. They are no longer just gestures that clarify an idea; they become choreographic material, a dance in and of itself. It’s not the gestures I modified but the context in which we observe them.
What does Forsythe represent for you as a dancer-choreographer?
In terms of the work purely on movement, what seems crucial to me is the idea of setting oneself localized geometric constraints, rather than globalized ones. In other vocabularies of movement that I have worked on, the definition of movements encompasses the whole body. For example, with Merce Cunningham, the entire body is determined geometrically. In Improvisation Technologies, the geometric boundaries are most often localized. He assigns a vector to a part of the body and the rest of it must adapt to that constraint, but the adaptation is not geometrically prede!ned. The result is that the various iterations of a same movement might be very different and, above all, it creates another type of relationship with the body.
We go from a homogenous body that self-manipulates in space to a heterogeneous body that manipulates part of itself, as you might manipulate a separate object. You focus your attention on one part of the body and you trust your physical mastery to produce the desired effect, rather than trying to direct the whole body all of the time.
What is your subject and what story does the piece tell?
I think the piece touches on several questions: when does a gesture become choreographic? How can a study of movement be developed with movement? Then there is the question of polyphony: how does verbal discourse transplant itself onto gestures and vice-versa?
The text helps us think about the different ways of defining a movement (with geometric or mechanical parameters, with a practical purpose, etc.) and about the relationships they create with the body. I also work on how you transform your body in the short and long term, on what that means from a personal and emotional perspective. Finally, I worked on strategies that are developed to give visibility to the way in which the movement is defined: the di!erence between making a gesture and showing it. This brought me back to my initial study of Improvisation Technologies but from a new angle: when does the movement show itself?
What are you trying to say about dance in this process?
I use a very broad definition of dance. Simone Forti wrote a dance report in which she described the way an onion, as it germinates, shifts its centre of gravity until it falls from the spout of the bottle where it had been placed. In this case, dance is in the eye of the beholder.
And so the discourse I develop in Mouvement sur mouvement is as much a dance as the movements I perform because the discourse o!ers ways of understanding and watching a movement that can a!ect our experience. I believe that this broad conception of dance has great possibilities, but I don’t defend the idea as an absolute truth.
"When does a gesture become choreographic? I use a very broad definition of dance."
Solo — 2013 — Run time 50 min — In french with english subtitles
Chorégraphe et danseur : Noé Soulier
Accueil : Opéra de Lyon, Biennale de la danse
Coproduction Festival d’automne à Paris, La Ménagerie de verre (Paris), Kaaïtheater (Bruxelles), Bruges Concertgebouw – Production WP Zimmer – Avec le soutien de Centre National de la Danse (Paris) et des moulins de Paillard – Remerciements à la Forsythe Company
Photo © DR - Portait © Laurent Philippe