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Interview with Martial Chazallon and Martin Chaput, of Projet in Situ

Martial Chazallon and Martin Chaput, a French choreographic duo, form Projet in Situ. At the core of Projet in Situ’s work is the examination of the body’s interactions with the space around it. Over the last decade the two choreographers have been inventing new ways of challenging audiences’ perceptions of their surroundings. Their immersive performance experiences expand our notions of dance, affirming our sense of the body and its presence in the everyday environment.

The duo has been working together since the creation of Du Haut in 2000. Chazallon comes from a research background, having spent time in South Africa exploring identity construction in Ndebele painting, an endeavor that culminated in the creation of Wake Up! in 2001. Chaput's career path has been more direct; he studied at Les Ateliers de Danse Moderne de Montréal before moving to France in 1987, where he pursued his training with members of the companies of Dominique Bagouet, Viviane Serry, Bernard Glandier, and several others.


Nicole Birmann Bloom (NBB): From September 4 to 6, you’ll be presenting La Ronde (The Round) in Brattleboro, Vermont, in partnership with Vermont Performance Lab (VPL). La Ronde is a site-specific immersive performance taking place in the town of Brattleboro, where the audience is led through various urban spaces by listening to audio and text instructions on his/her smartphone. Could you tell us more about the recording that will guide each participant through the spaces, and how this recording was conceived?

Martial Chazallon and Martin Chaput (MC&MC): The project questions the nature of the relationships we develop with the spaces in which we move, work and live. How does that affect our body in our daily lives? What happens when one pauses for a moment and starts to pay attention to the soundscape around us, to pay attention to details, to be aware of how one’s own body fits into these places?

We all have an intuitive experience when we enter a building for the first time; it could be a good feeling, a bad feeling, or something more subtle. What does this first reaction tell us about the way we inhabit and interact with these spaces?

The recordings are developed with the help of a group of locals - youths, adults and artists - and are born out of the sensorial approach of the participants’ daily experiences in various buildings. The challenge for each participant is to be aware of his or her own cognition in response to the building and its particularities. The recordings are therefore uniquely rooted in a specific time and space; they reveal the singular experience of a person in a place that she/he has explored, invested in, inhabited or transformed. When the audience members listen to these recordings, they follow in the steps of the local and share his or her experience of the space. This is a crucial moment—the core of the artistic process is about sharing a sensorial, imaginative and emotional experience with another person.

NBB: How did you select the buildings, and which did you choose?

MC&MC: We made our first tour of public and private buildings near Main Street in Brattleboro with Sara Coffey, the director of Vermont Performance Lab. We drew up a list of the buildings that were most interesting to us. The project required access to certain spaces at specific times, and after discussions with the managers and owners of the buildings, we were able to finalize our selection.

In general, we choose to work with architectural groupings that have a clear identity; we picked two big blocks on Main Street, which are home to a wide variety of businesses. One of the buildings, for example, houses a hotel, a movie theater, office spaces, and apartments. This is the city’s Art Deco building, but more than its design, we were challenged by its multiple uses and its grand dimension. The other block is located on the other side of Main Street, facing the Connecticut River. It contains an art gallery, a theater, apartments and offices on many floors.

After we select the buildings, we create a “chemin de ronde,” an itinerary leading around and into the building that allows the audience to explore the space in various ways, uncovering new facets of the structure and numerous areas within it, eventually reaching its heart, which is usually the final stop on the itinerary.

It is important that each tour take place in a identifiable location, in order to maintain this idea that one is taking a tour of it, that one is “making the rounds” of it. This is a dramaturgic element that is essential to the project. The buildings have to “tell” us something; we should feel intrigued by them, they should feed our imagination.

NBB: What are the observations made most frequently by participants and audiences, that have moved or affected you in some way?

MC&MC: Most of the people are surprised by the richness surrounding them in their daily lives, which they often had been unable to see. Some participants have a new experience of a place they visit every day and are able to savor this time spent there in something close to a meditative state.

Others are moved by the encounters with these voices, which belong to people they will never meet, but with whom they share a truly intimate moment following in their footsteps, or allowing their imagination to be affected by that of the voice.

Others still told us that they did not look at things in the same way anymore! It is as if they acquired an entirely new perspective with which to view the world; as if the ordinary became the extraordinary.

In addition to the audiences, the participants with whom we develop the recordings are different every time the project is staged. It is always striking to witness the singularity of their imagination; often they are unsure of themselves and feel destabilized by what they are asked to do, but in the end they feel a heightened ability to exist in the present moment. 

NBB: Sara Coffey saw your work "Tu vois ce que je veux dire?" at the Lyon Dance Biennale in 2008 and consequently invited you for a residence at VPL where you developed a piece based on memory, again with local participants (this became DIORAMA, a production presented in 2011). So you are making a visit to Brattleboro for a second time! Could you tell us about the encounters you made in the region and how they differ from your other experiences abroad?

MC&MC:  Sara Coffey’s project is rooted in a distinctive rural region. Through a variety of unique artistic propositions, her work questions the community’s relationship to the “other” in a way that resonated strongly with our mission.

There is something sweet and simple about being back in Brattleboro. People are generous and open-minded. Their generosity is a rare resource that is highly valuable to our projects, which are based on human encounters, and which require these peoples’ time.

There are, of course, many more unique aspects of this place outside of the context of our project, as there are in every place we visit, which makes this a difficult question to answer.

In Vermont, we’ll be working in English and are curious to see how the use of another language will impact the project, what words and sentences will be used by the Americans to articulate their experience.

NBB: After this residency at VPL, La Ronde will continue to be shown in the United States. Could you tell us more about the ties you’ve formed with other locations in the country?

MC&MC: Since our first visit in 2009 at VPL, we have built ties with other locations with whom we have had discussions about our projects. Some professionals have also seen our work in Vancouver and Montreal. Since all of our projects require extensive preparation over the long-term, we are planning to continue working with certain partners in the years to come. 

For La Ronde, Vermont Performance Lab partnered with Mass MoCA and the Arts and Ideas Festival. In the spring of 2016, La Ronde will be developed at Mass MoCa, in the immense buildings at this fascinating contemporary art center in North Adams, and then at the museum at Yale University, in partnership with the festival of Arts and Ideas. Historically, these museums have very little in common and it will be interesting to see how things will play out in each location.

NBB: In light of your previous careers as a dancer (Martin), and researcher (Martial), what led you to develop these projects?

MC&MC: Dance has greatly evolved in the past few decades and it has become necessary to question what today constitutes a show, a dance, a dancer. Our work is part of this re-invention and redefinition of form. We seek to invest in new places, to invent new ways of challenging audiences’ perceptions of their surroundings. The connections we form, and the interactions we have with people – both audiences and participants – have become the foundation of our choreographic research. Thinkers have theorized about “relational aesthetics” (Nicolas Bourriaud), the “distribution of the sensible” (Jacques Rancière), and “art as experience” (John Dewey). We subscribe to these schools of thought. We are creating a context and situations for human encounters in the hope that they will draw attention to the bodies of the spectators or the people present, and that they will give them the freedom to express, to live, to feel and sense their own corporeal imagination.

Interview by Nicole Birmann Bloom (August 2015)