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French choreographer, performer, and director of Terrain, Boris Charmatz, approaches dance as collaborative possibilities that redraw formal constructs. For him, the stage is a notepad where he drafts organic concepts and then observes and captures the tensions, reactions, and engagements of those involved. Recently appointed as the new Artistic Director of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, he shared with ICONS his creative interests and plans for the future.



ICONS: What is your background as a dancer and choreographer?


Boris Charmatz: I started dancing at seven. I went to the Paris Opera Ballet School and always wanted to dance as a dancer for other choreographers. I was in love with some artists’ work, particularly Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Meg Stuart, and I worked with both.


I began my work as a choreographer at age 19, together with Dimitri Chamblas, who was 17. We did a duet and believed in it. We performed it only 3 times the first year, but we thought we would keep performing it until we died. We still perform it after 30 years from the premiere. Last year, we performed this duet in Montpellier, and it entered the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire.


I also started curating and began collaborating with various artists, especially when we did live exhibition projects with Musée de la danse. We invited artists, historians, architects, and archivists to work on what Musée de la danse could be. I don’t like the name curator, but I like to create bridges between people and artistic media such as dance and visual arts. And although I am a choreographer, I don’t pretend everything in my dance work belongs to me. 



ICONS: Can you talk more about one of your latest works – a solo for yourself called SOMNOLE?


BC: I love to sleep. The best ideas I have had in life came when I was lying and half asleep. And that is where the idea for this piece came from.


While I am dancing this long solo, I am whistling the music for my own dancing. There is the whistling and the dance, but what connects the viewers and me is that one can hear my breath through the whistling the whole time. As a dancer, when I am a bit more passive, like lying half asleep, I am connected to my whistling, and that sound goes into my head and body and, from there, into the head and body of the viewers.


The first time I performed this long solo, I realized I never had this strong connection with the audience because they were on a concrete level breathing with me, following my inhales and exhales. I try to share with the maximum permeability and openness the experience I am going through with this dance, which springs from childhood memories.




ICONS: As the new Artistic Director of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, what is your vision for the future of the ensemble?


BC: My first vision is that I am learning. It’s a strong, very wide learning process. I am learning about the city, the dancers, and the repertoire of Pina. Of course, I know Pina Bausch’s work, but I am in front of specialists. I am here to learn, and I have learned so much already.


Last year, I saw 35 performances of works by Pina Bausch. I wanted to go deep into her work so it can be taken care of collectively because it is not me alone taking care of it. There is the foundation, the critics, the dancers, the ex-dancers, the audience, and so on. There are so many people who are taking care of this repertoire, which is amazing.


I also came to Wuppertal to create a new ground for the company and to open windows and doors. I said, for instance, let’s perform outside, in the city with its inhabitants. This “opening project” was called Wundertal/Sonnborner Strasse, with 200 performers, 6,000 viewers, and a 3-hour-long dance marathon. At first, this idea sounded crazy, but it worked. My goal was to bring fresh ideas to the landscape of the city and embrace its presence. The company is famous for the masterpieces of the 20th century, so we need to keep that repertory alive in the present and the future.




ICONS: What is the idea behind your newest work, Liberté Cathédrale, which you will premiere on September 8, 2023?


BC: The starting point was the desire to work with the space of a cathedral and the idea of freedom. It is also about working with the idea of love because freedom is not far from love. In addition, I always loved organs and bells and wanted to choreograph a dance to music with bells and other sounds connected to the church.


A church as an idea could also bring some negative perceptions; for instance, why do we often learn from the media about child abuse? Also, not long ago, the Cathedral de Notre Dame burned, and one might begin to wonder: Does the catholic church really belong to everyone? I find these contradictory ideas challenging and yet attractive. The ideas bring questions and require artistic research. It is rewarding to look for the answers to questions that haven’t been answered yet.



ICONS: Will you be the only creator, or will it be a group collaboration with the dancers?


BC: The group of 26 dancers is a mix: 19 dancers from Tanztheater Wuppertal and 7 from Terrain. There are dancers from the Tanztheater ensemble with whom I have never worked, and other dancers from Terrain, so people I have already worked with. None of us would have made the creative process and the outcome so far if we had not been together. The new work is very collaborative and based on that togetherness.


ICONS: Where will the piece be performed?


BC: The premiere will be in a church, Mariendom in Neviges, Wuppertal, the biggest in the region. We can also bring the new dance work to theatres, industrial sites, and other urban locations. The dance piece was created in a church because the building has side paths that offer different ways of using the space in terms of dancing and movement.


The music will be played by an organ and many bells from all over Europe. There is a singing part and a silence part because we go to churches to find silence. Silence also relates to the repressed voices of many people. Incorporated is a text by John Donne, a famous ancient English poet, and vocals by Peaches, a hard-core feminist singer from Berlin.




ICONS: How would you describe your creative process as a choreographer?


BC: I don’t like having handy rules, but I can discuss the process of this last project. I use a part with the organ music of Phill Niblock. He is an amazing 80-year-old electronic composer, and the music is composed to create a loud sound wall.


As a starting point, I wanted to conduct movement research on touch. With our group of dancers' collaborative and creative spirit, we spent a lot of time researching touch; for instance, there is no movement before a touch, and we see what happens after a touch. Also, touching while in a church is a complex subject.


The dancers provided their own materials and 30 minutes of improvisation on the subject of touch. Then, with the available movement material, we made sketches, constructed and designed, and decided what to keep and let go. Finally, we considered the specifics of the site and the architectural environment. We collaborated on how the work is situated in a public place that transforms into a performance space. We could not change the site; we could only work with it.


At age 50, I have my own style of creating. I bring my style; the dancers bring their own, and we figure it out together. I am here to work with the history of this place in the present space and time. What would be the post-Pina Tanztheater Wuppertal? Let’s figure it out together.



ICONS: What are your plans and upcoming projects for 2023-2024?


BC: The season ahead is already full of projects, and new ones are coming that have not been planned. Liberté Cathédrale is a big endeavor! Let’s see how it goes. We will tour Lyon, the north of France, where I am strongly connected.


We are working with my establishment Terrain (…a choreographic green space. A dance terrain. A human architecture project, where moving bodies form the visible, mobile architecture of a new institution.) alongside the Tanztheater Wuppertal on a strong collaboration between France and Germany, and I am very excited about it.


Alongside the Pina Bausch repertoire, the dancers are also learning one of my pieces called Aatt enen tionon, and we program a special evening called Club Amour that we will take to Berlin.


Within many big projects and major tours, I continue to represent and perform my own solo SOMNOLE. The solo will be presented in New York, Rome, and various cities in France. I like this contrast between working with 200 people for 6,000 viewers and being alone on stage in the most fragile and vulnerable state possible. I like being collaborative but also being by myself. At the end of the day, it is all about feeling free and being free, which is the point of art.





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Boris Charmatz - 10000 Gestures - Trailer




Interview of Boris Charmatz - « Liberté Cathédrale »






    Portrait of Boris Charmatz, courtesy of Terrain

© Paul Chao, SOMNOLE,  choreography and performance by Boris Charmatz

© Gianmarco Bresadola, 10000 gestes, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine

© Joseph Banderet, 10000 gestes, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine

© Laurent Philippe, Infini, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine

© César Vayssié, Levée, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine

© Christophe Raynayd de Lage, Enfant, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine

© Christophe Raynayd de Lage, Enfant, choreography by Boris Charmatz, Terraine





Interviewer: Veronica Posth

Executive Content Editor: Camilla Acquista

Executive Assistant: Charles Scheland

Executive Director: Vladimir Angelov

Dance ICONS, Inc., September 2023 © All rights reserved.