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Interview with Alban Richard, Choreographer

The Joyce Theater will present the Ballet de Lorraine from Feb 7 to 12 with recent commissions to French choreographers among them, HOK  by Alban Richard, Director of the National Choreographic Center in Caen, Normandie. Before coming to New York, Alban spoke with us about his work. 

Nicole Birmann Bloom (N.B.B.): Could you tell us about your background? Where did you train? With whom did you work before developing your own choreographies? 

Alban Richard (A.R.): In a sense I have a very classical background: studying literature at university and music, I discovered dance around 19 years old and I started to work as a performer at 21! I worked with a lot of French choreographers and with choreographers from Belgium, Austrian, and even Australia too. In the meantime I decided to create my own company in 2000. Since then I created more than 45 works dealing with music, literature, cinema and plastic arts, trying to invent process, weaving all those media together. The performances are presented in theater, in concert halls, and in museums and galleries too.

N.B.B.: You are deeply committed to music, could tell us more about it? And about your recent works with music ensembles? Has a composer ever created a work for you and your company? 

A.R.: Music makes me move and think. For years now I’m working with a very large scale of music: from medieval music of the 13th century with Alla francesca ensemble to Pléiades from Iannis Xénakis played live by Les Percussions de Strasbourg, from Bach to Wagner, from French Suites  for Harpsichord played by Christophe Rousset / Les Talens Lyriques to electronic music by Arnaud Rebotini or Laurent Perrier, from brand new piece of Raphaël Cendo, Jérôme Combier, Composer, or Matthew Barnson to Rachmaninov… Music inspired me in many ways: the structures of composition, the tools to think time and space, the rhythmic aspects, the textures, the qualities, the affects … Depending if I work on an already existing piece or a creation, my way of working  will consider the macrostructure and the microstructure of the piece, the timings, the sections… Sometimes it can be very abstract: analyzing the score, counting the measures, finding ways of understanding how this music is build, in which social background was it heard, sometimes it can be very concrete like writing a dance in a reverse canon, or finding inspiration with paintings or sculptures or literature with which that music is related to… Sometimes it’s just invention!  When a composer comes to create a piece for you it’s another job, you have to really meet him/her first to elaborate a kind of common language to be sure you’re talking about the same thing … Meeting a mental universe it’s sometimes not so easy ! 

N.B.B.: What about HOK, a commission by Ballet de Lorraine? Was it your first commission for a ballet? 

A.R.: I had different commissions in the past like the one for Toronto Dance Theater in 2011 for which I created a piece I liked the title so much “It can’t be dying- it’s too rouge”; IRCAM commissioned me a lot of pieces too, but HOK is my very first one for a Ballet. I decided to work on that unbelievable piece of Louis Andriessen Hoketus, which was written in 1975 as a kind of punk-rock response to the music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and the Minimalists. The piece is based on the medieval technique of hoketus meaning two groups facing each other responding in echo. The piece is massive music flirting with Stravinsky, Punk music, Minimal Techno but the end is very Jazzy.

For HOK, I was in a hurry because the music was very demanding. So I analyzed all the score, decided canons, rhythmic cells and floor-patterns before meeting the dancers. Then with them we invented all the gestures of the piece. Each dancer has its own score, each of them enables “the machine” to work. It’s the addition of soli that make the group strong. It’s a group of 12 dancers but at the same time the group is the soloist… Louis Andreessen talking about his piece said: "it’s a gigantic human dancing machine” . I tried to listen at him.

N.B.B.: Since September 2015, you are the director of the Centre chorégraphique de Caen en Normandie (National Choreographic Center in Caen, Normandy). Could you tell us about your mission there, about the artists in residence and your action with the people and the students of the region?

A.R.: In September 2015, I assumed the direction of the centre chorégraphique national de Caen en Normandie, accompanied by my entire artistic team and other long-term collaborators, as well as by two associate artists : Mélanie Perrier and Ola Maciejewska (choreographers) from 2016 till 2018, and four fellow artists : Jérôme Combier, Christine Gaigg, Phia Ménard, Mickaël Phelippeau (choreographers) from 2015 till 2019.

The centre chorégraphique national de Caen en Normandie is a space for shared projects that question the world we live in, a space for sensitivity where dance is at the heart of an artistic vision that is political and civic minded. It is a centre for creation, reception, production and distribution of choreographic works and a pole of resources for training and research, focused primarily on the ties between dance and music. It is a space shared by the artists, inhabitants, non-profits and cultural institutions, a place open to artistic creation and contemporary repertoire. Accessible to everyone, where people come to see, do and talk. 

Arousing curiosity, stimulating the desire for knowledge, opening to difference, sharing real artistic, human and intellectual experience, these are my new challenges as artistic director for the centre chorégraphique national de Caen en Normandie.

N.B.B.: Thank you, Alban, for sharing these thoughts with us. 


Interview with Nicole Birmann Bloom, Program Officer, Performing Arts, made on January 28th, 2017.