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Tracy Danison, Paris correspondent

Rachid Ouramdane’s national dance theater: making space for imagination [by Paul Tracy Danison]

Makingimagination-Transition
A couple of Johanna Faye’s Black Sheep dancing at, in, a point of transition  – Palais de Chaillot, 18 September 2021


I wonder if our civilization’s habit of building everything as an impossible play on a log cabin will be flushed out by the boiling floods and freezes of climate change? Will we come up with something that responds to our current needs and environment instead of harking back to forgotten fears of a big, chilly oak forest inhabited by grumpy gods?

I began wondering about this when I was at a program called Chaillot Experience, one of the events that Rachid Ouramdane, newly director of the newly-officialized Théâtre National de la Danse at the old Palais de Chaillot, is using to set a tone for a dance performance that, as he told Arte TV earlier this year, picks and chooses energies and movement in the world around.

Chaillot Experience used access and waiting space as performance space; there was no attempt to transform the palace’s restored art deco corridors, foyers and entries into anything else, just to show that dance can happen in them, too. Come to think of it, maybe those ordinary movements - entry, exit, waiting, watching - are dance essences, too …

Makingspacefor-Rachid Ouramdane-8©Benjamin_Mengelle - copie
Rachid Ouramdane, director of the Théâtre National de la Danse at the Palais de Chaillot, points to the dance in places, people and things where where before there was only movement

My part of the Experience was catching tightrope walker Nathan Paulin in the corner of my eye from the plate glass windows of the palace’s grand foyer while glancing around to see where the acrobatic troupe Cie XY was and what it was doing as it messily tumbled through the stairs and hallways. Johanna Faye’s Cie Black Sheep dancers covered the palace’s transitional spaces – breaks, branchings, landings, thresholds – with a Spectacle déambulatoire which winkled out this’ll-do-nicely niches for a variety of short, thrilling performances. Over the public address system, Paulin, barely a speck against the ironwork of the famous tower, continuously commented his 700-meter progress from the Eiffel tower to the palace’s esplanade, even as the rope swayed and gave way in the gusting wind.

Faye’s this’ll-do-nicely niche-ing reminded me of the emerging erotic energy around my high-school friend Evie’s at-homes before parents and school authorities noticed and stamped it out. Faye’s Black Sheep can dance. Cie XY seems to have eliminated gendering in their show, putting women on the bottom as well as on top of those dare-devil climbs and muscle clusters acrobats do. I thought it a sign or portent, if Janus-faced. Strong, delighted ladies, look sharp! If the Texas Taliban doesn’t forbid sinful clothes and declare y’all pregnant-in-principle, anyhow, I predict, gasp, adequate, if not yet free, public toilets in the very near future.

What got the log-cabin architecture riff into my brain the first place was a chance remark by an architect. She works on the team tasked with reconverting the Palais de la Porte Dorée from a place to admire, as the legends on the restored frescoes in the main hall put it, “France’s contributions to its colonial subjects” to a Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration. More an about-face than a reconversion, surely. But the architect – unafraid of a drink and a guffaw - remains sanguine.

She says that in building design – at least where the conceptual building blocks are lofty oak logs laid upon other oak logs – everything is potluck anyhow. Our log cabins almost never work as intended because, as a general proposition, our architecture is just about as un-adapted to environment it exists in as a green-grass lawn in the desert around Phoenix, Arizona, and generally resistant to anything Imagination might suggest. No need to sweat. Nobody’s to blame. Drink up.

All this baggage suggested to me that Chaillot’s Ouramdane is quite right: as it responds to our collective need for Imagination, dance bursts out of traditional forms and fills all the spaces available. Chaillot’s auditoriums (and those almost anyplace else) can’t accommodate an ordinary tightrope walker, let alone the sense at the heart of a Cie XY performance.

When you come to think of it, even Johanna Faye’s this’ll-do-nicely niche-ing where-you-can staging stretches the dramatic possibilities of log-cabin architecture to the limit. And what about the dancers and choreographers growing out of an ever- broadening vision of dance-performance?

It seems to me that at some point very soon, they’ll need space that is made for life – either dance will own all space as it does all movement or it will force us to introduce more diversity in how we can consider space.  

Whatever. Put Ouramdane’s dance program on your getting-back-to-Paris list. You’re likely to be intrigued by the life and imagination in anything you sign up to see.


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