Interview with Laurent Vinauger, Secretary General of the Ballet de Lorraine, France

February 19, 2015 | By Nicole Birmann, translated by Naomi Lake

Laurent Vinauger, previously at the CCNFCB (Centre Choregraphique National- Franche-Comté - Belfort) and currently Secretary General at the CCNBL (Centre Choregraphique National - Ballet de Lorraine) in Nancy, comes to New York every January to attend professional conferences on performing arts. Under the auspices of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), they features festivals such as Under The Radar, COIL, American Realness, Live Artery, GLobalFest, Winter Jazz Fest, and multiple independent initiatives.

Nicole Birmann Bloom (N.B.B.): Could you speak to us about your motivation to be present in this intense time of year?

Laurent Vinauger (L.V.): For 10 years now it is an absolute must to be in New York in January for these festivals. The diversity of artistic propositions is enormous. I am inspired by the festivals American Realness, Under the Radar, and COIL, and the many opportunities to discover other companies’ work at different stages of production. In addition, the possibility of meeting professionals from many countries makes these several days unique within the season.

N.B.B.: Thus we are in New York, whose choreographic and performing scenes are very active and rich, even exuberant. What is your experience in the rest of the United States?

L.V.: During these days in January, the productions offered come not only from New York City, but also from all over the United States and from other countries. Outside of NYC, I pay attention to projects from San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and also to those from Quebec and other parts of Canada. The energy, the approach, and the themes explored by these companies across North America appear to be mutually distinctive.

N.B.B.: Could you give us some examples? What differences have you noticed?

L.V.: It seems that the works of choreographers living and working in NYC are more grounded in the history of American dance and more inspired by the various dance movements that developed there. They seem to reference, interpret, reinterpret, and defy dance history's conceptual and historical weight. I have also noticed a young generation of artists that invests itself more directly into various social questions, such as gender, sexuality, racism, and even environmentalism. In Quebec the young generation seems, since the mid-2000’s, less attached to the idea of choreographic “signature”; collaborations are common. The young choreographers take on dance in a more interdisciplinary and radically performative way, by integrating Europeans references and North American physicality.

N.B.B.: While in Belfort, you invited several American choreographers to be in residence. Could you talk about these artists and about the public’s reaction?

L.V.: In April 2004, I had the luck to be part of the first exchange trip proposed by FUSED (French U.S. Exchange in Dance), in partnership with New England Foundation for the Arts. José Alfarroba, Director, Theatre de Vanves, was also part of the trip. During our travels from New York to Minneapolis and then Seattle, I met many artists whose projects I still follow today. Some were developing their own work, others were at that time participating in other projects. The FUSED program also allowed me, with support from the French Embassy’s Cultural Services in New York, to tour Odile Duboc’s work in fall 2006 (French Institute Alliance Francaise and New City Center, part of Fall For Dance Festival, New York, then in Philadelphia and Holyoke, MA). We are now starting to work with Rena Shagan on a North-American tour for the Ballet de Lorraine.

While traveling in the U.S., founder of the Vermont Performance Lab Sara Coffey was our trip coordinator. I have since visited her in Vermont in order to better understand the Lab. We are still in contact, and discuss issues such as mentorship, sharing expertise, networks, and innovations in production especially through the project The Hatchery that she is leading with other partners in the U.S. I also have regular contact with Carla Peterson, former Artistic Director at New York Live Arts, and current Artistic Director of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Florida.

These active exchanges resulted in many invitations for emerging U.S. choreographers. In Belfort, along with Odile Duboc and Joanne Leighton (the former and current directors of CCNFCB), I was capable of supporting with help from FUSED funding creations by Trajal Harrell, Heather Kravas, Jeremy Wade, Keith Hennessy, Ann Liv Young, Morgan Thorson, Kimberly Bartosik, often in partnership with other French institutions such as Les Subsistances in Lyon, the Choreographic Center in Montpellier, Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC), Angers, Théâtre de la Bastille, and Théâtre de Vanves. Some of these artists also benefited from the “Acceuil/studio” program created in 1998 by the (French) Minister of Culture and Communication. It grants 45,000 Euros to each of the 19 CCN’s with the goal of generating residencies and co-productions with companies from around the world.

For example I was among the first to welcome Trajal Harrell in residence. Many French professionals used to consider his work too rooted in American history, culture, and dance, and thus inaccessible to French audiences. Despite this, we presented Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (S) at CCNFCB with a projection of the extraordinary film Paris is burning by Jennie Livingston, along with rehearsals of Trajal’s next project, Antigone Sr (L) and the too rarely seen Quartet For the End of Time. The audience was captivated and asked fascinating questions at each event.

Heather Kravas is another American artist too little seen in France whom CCNFCB welcomed several times, either in duet with Antonija Livingstone or alone; the audience was deeply impressed by the quality and the strength of her work, and sometimes by its eccentricity. Her time with us is still remembered by many.

N.B.B.: What differences have you noticed between the French (or even European) and American (dance) scenes?

L.V.: Although I don’t want to generalize, it seems to me that the artistic lines between them are becoming blurred. The modes of production and support, however, are still very different. The American production mechanism is complex. We nonetheless notice a strong impulse on both sides of the Atlantic to diversify methods of production and support and to share knowledge. I am very interested in these exchanges.

N.B.B.: In your new roles and in collaboration with Petter Jacobsson, Director of the CCNBL, how important do you feel the American choreographic scene is, especially vis-à-vis the Ballet de Lorraine, a repertory company?

L.V.: The CCNBL is interested in American artists on two levels: we would like to integrate some American works that we are missing into our repertory (like Sounddance, Fugue, Opal Loop,...) while commissioning new pieces from American choreographers. On another level, we would like to welcome American choreographers in residence and co-produce projects with American companies, particularly in the framework of Accueil/studio. For example in 2015-2016, Liz Santoro will be our artist in residence, and several new works will enter the Ballet de Lorraine repertory.

Since we rose to the rank of Centre Chorégraphique National in 1999, the CCNBL has been dedicated to contemporary choreographers. Petter Jacobsson, director since 2011, relies on those works to inform his artistic vision for the company, now composed of 26 permanent dancers. The CCNBL fosters new work from artists both known and emerging, and seeks key pieces from major choreographers around the world for its repertory. As of 2015, works (either re-creations or commissions) by La Ribot, William Forsythe, Mathilde Monnier, Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Gisèle Vienne, Martha Graham, Ingun Bjørnsgaard, Xavier Le Roy and Eszter Salamon, Noé Soulier, Emanuel Gat, Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley, Andonis Foniadakis, Alban Richard, Itamar Serussi, Cécilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud are in the company repertory. During the 2015-2016 season, two new works by Twyla Tharp and one by Trisha Brown will enter the repertory. Next season, The Ballet will commission more works.

It is also essential for Petter Jacobsson to promote works like Sounddance by Merce Cunningham and In the Upper Room or Fugue by Twyla Tharp to European audiences. These works are landmark pieces for contemporary dance and our goal is to have them re-discovered by the public.

N.B.B.: What do you foresee for the next Franco-American collaborations? And if it not too indiscreet, what do you dream of for their future?

L.V.: I wish to continue to welcome emergent American artists in residence and to include CCNBL in the program DANSE – a four-year project currently being developed to foster more exchange and strengthen partnerships. I am particularly interested in contributing to the development of a platform for French and American professionals to question current conditions of production and to encourage new models of support.

My dreams are simple but numerous: to pursue and reinforce these exchanges, to meet with new partners and new artists and to find ways of producing them in Nancy, and to continue sharing moments of shock, surprise, and enlightenment with other artists.

Laurent Vinauger, Secrétaire général

CCN - Ballet de Lorraine

Interview by Nicole Birmann Bloom; translation by Naomi Lake and Nicole (February 2015)

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