Interview with David Wampach

January 21, 2013 | By Kathryn Hamilton

French dancer and choreographer David Wampach performed this January as part of French Highlights, a survey of contemporary French choreography at venues around New York City.

You’ve spoken about Sacre as an exploration of what is sacred onstage.  Can you talk about how the piece came from that idea?

It comes from my experiences of the pieces I’ve been watching:  I was a bit annoyed how people could just come onstage and just take this opportunity for nothing.  I was just wondering how to figure out what is means to be onstage, and to take this time with the audience.  So coming onstage and standing there:  it’s something that is sacred, it’s something that is a ritual and that is political.  It’s political, yes.  Even though we don’t speak, through the body language we give a point of view, that it is about what happens here, now, in this society, in this environment.  I wanted to think about the importance of coming onstage and standing upright:  for me it is the most sacred thing I can figure out onstage.

The costumes reference the Middle Ages.  Can you talk about how this idea developed?

[The Rite of Spring] is 100 years old this year, (even though I was making this piece three years ago).  It was part of Russian antiquity, and so I was interested in these in between stages.  I am very intrigued by the Crusades, and the Hundred Years' War, this period in Europe with this war, and the Plague as well. And people dying from famine. Half of the people in Europe died from those two causes. It’s amazing how they stated to move – well, I’m going on about this historical thing which is not the point really.  I’m very impressed with how this period is culturally rich, with tapestries. When I was working on Sacre, I was in Normandy and I went to see the most famous tapestry in Normandy, the Tapestry of the Apocalypse. And it’s huge, maybe 30 or 40 meters, and you have all these costumes, people with armor: it was at this moment when I saw this tapestry that I was so connected with all these bodies and the costumes, and the sacrifice of course, because all these people were going to die, and they knew it.

The design looks like armor, but the costumes are made of gauze, and don’t offer any protection at all. 

Exactly, that’s the contradiction, I totally agree. We have armor, but at the same time we are so vulnerable. And it’s also what we did at the end, instead of an animal or human sacrifice, we kill our column: we also call it a totem. Which is a symbol of the ancestors, of protection, as is the armor.  So instead of having armor we have these transparent costumes, so we are not so protected, and at the end we sacrifice this symbol of protection, and we put the sword into it. In my idea it is making a sacrifice of the protection. What about being nervous and accepting that?

Are there American artists whose work you are inspired by?

There are many, but I immediately think of Robert Morris, and Richard Serra. I cannot say exactly why, but I would say perhaps more how the body is involved in their work – you can really feel frightened. Especially with Richard Serra’s installations. I feel frightened when I am in his pieces. Yes, I feel frightened. 

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