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Interview with Noémie Solomon, Editor of DANSE: A Catalogue

DANSE: A Catalogue is a collection of dialogues and essays drawing on DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas, a 3-week event that presented several contemporary dance performances from France in New York in May 2014.
The catalogue will be released by les Presses du réel in June 2015. It joins DANSE: An Anthology, published in January 2014, which gathered over 25 essays written between 1995 and today on choreographic practices across the French, American, and international dance scenes.
DANSE: A Catalogue is edited by writer, teacher and curator of contemporary choreography, Noémie Solomon. It is published by Les presses du réel in collaboration with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

Nicole Birmann Bloom: Could you tell us about the contents and how you organized the book in connection with the 2014 festival DANSE? How did you build the selection of the authors and artists who participated in the catalogue and who are they?

Noémie Solomon: DANSE: A Catalogue comprises newly commissioned essays and dialogues by choreographic artists, writers, and curators around key issues in contemporary dance creation. As such, the book draws on the work of DANSE: An Anthology published last year, which gathered a wide range of key movement theories across French and English languages since the turn of the century. It also grows from the festival’s many performances and talks that took place in NYC in May 2014.

In trying to imagine the contours of the catalogue (what themes and concerns it should hold; what works and authors should be featured) the question of the encounter has been a vital one. It felt necessary to imagine ways of continuing the conversations set into motion by the many DANSE events, rather than proposing a series of texts that would act as definitive or authoritative voices on certain themes or works. Selecting, translating, and assembling texts for the anthology mapped some themes and concerns in relation that I felt needed further attention; it also exposed some redundancies, gaps, as well as zones of obscurity. The festival’s various events raised important matters for performance, aesthetics, vocabularies, or genealogies. And so, in order to pursue these exchanges, to press further these trajectories and in-between states, we commissioned texts in the form of the dialogue. It also offered a way to address some of the challenges and possibilities for dance to be documented or represented; to experiment with modes of writing-with events, their specific modalities and formats. Some authors who are part of the catalogue were already present in the anthology or involved in the festival – directly or somewhat implicitly. It felt important to add other voices. And, logistically speaking, putting together such a catalogue really is an ongoing process, and at no point was there an overall plan that was then concretized. It entailed a series of choices and decisions responding to shifting situations throughout – a choreography of bodies and things coming together and falling apart, gently. The catalogue took shape through a series of encounters, and I am hoping it will prompt further thoughts and movements across acts of reading…

The catalogue is organized in three different parts. The first, titled Present Histories, maps a constellation of practices between an American experimental dance tradition and a French contemporary dance scene. It opens with a dialogue between curator Thomas J. Lax and dancer and choreographer Will Rawls who discuss the living legacy of the late French choreographer Alain Buffard (whose Baron Samedi (2012) opened the DANSE festival in 2014) in relation to the figure of Anna Halprin as well as questions of colonialism, procession, illness. Catherine Perret and Christophe Wavelet come back to work of the Quatuor Knust collective during the late 1990s, looking at a series of seminal dance projects bridging dance histories and contemporary gestures across the surface of the score. Douglas Dunn evokes his singular journey in the dance "world," from 1960s New York to Paris, to the present and back again, talking about dance making and dance seeing. Through her analysis of Les gens d’Uterpan’s Topologie (2010), Julie Perrin recalls a genealogy of outdoor experimentations and site-specific practices in New York from the 1960s onward.

The second part, Foreign Intimacies, outlines a shifting terrain where dance practices waver at the frontiers of comprehension and legibility. Dancer and choreographer Emmanuelle Huynh and curator Judy Hussie-Taylor discuss what dancing and curating practices can do in relation to repressed corporeal histories. Peggy Phelan addresses the delicate conditions for choreographic knowledge, its mysteries, pitfalls, and openings. In a dialogue with scholar and dramaturge Bojana Bauer, Latifa Laâbissi discusses a choreographic process that recognizes "the foreign" and is "subject to otherness." Then, writer and critic Claudia La Rocco interrogates the challenges and possibilities for contemporary dance across cultural discomforts, misunderstandings, and lags.

The last part, Collective Acts, calls attention to dancing bodies through and as political practices. Choreographer Xavier Le Roy and writer Adrian Heathfield discuss the recent Retrospective project: the creative and critical methodologies at work across economies of dance and the visual arts, life and art, performance and authorship, the solo and the collective. Scholar Felicia McCarren addresses the violent events of January 2015 in Paris to extend her analysis of French hip-hop in relation to questions of cultural politics and visibility. Curator Ana Janevski and dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz reflect on the work between MoMA and Musée de la danse, and speculate on imaginary and political futures for dance and the museum, improvisation and archival practices. Finally, philosopher Boyan Manchev addresses "the collaborative turn" in contemporary dance, reminding us of the affinities of collaboration with "performance capitalism" and thus the importance to stop fetishizing the "relational" in order to think and practice dance as "action."

N.B.B.: How did you approach the French-American connection (vector)?

N.S.: Yes, the French-American question has obviously been one haunting the whole process. Yet I can’t say it has been the central one, or the one directly organizing the contents. Approaching dance from the question of national identities – even in relation – seems somewhat limited. It would be naïve to say these questions were simply absent, but I am more interested in how dance practices press against those national and identitarian borders. So yes, this is a question we certainly had to face, but also move with, across, and away from. As Mathilde Monnier generously suggested in her reading of the book, the texts seem to "bear witness to the considerable vitality of current French-American encounters," rather than, I think, to reflect upon this as a given phenomenon. These "encounters" can be mapped in specific times and spaces, but they are also feeding and shaping heterogeneous and globalized practices. Dancing bodies are certainly rich, complex sites in which to examine those questions. Perhaps also my own perspective as "Québécoise" having spent my adult life between France and the U.S. gives me a singular way in and a way out of these diplomatic matters, so to speak. What this movement across different cultures seems to enable, if anything, is a way to bring a sense of foreignness to one’s own practice, thought, language – or, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have suggested, to invent ways of writing in one’s own language as if it were a foreign language. In this sense, the space of translation has certainly been an important aspect of the project, opening up new relations across different contexts, but also I hope new meanings or possibilities for dancing bodies – who appear not only in translation but as translators, as they engage in a string of experimental practices…

N.B.B.: Based on this research, are there issues that you would like to examine further or that you feel have not been explored fully?

N.S.: Well, there are many things I’d like to examine more extensively. Part of this concerns specific works or artists. After mapping out different practices, thoughts, concepts, it feels important to work more closely on singular artistic approaches, and perhaps on making creative and critical conditions for artists to make the new work they want to make. Issues tied to the labor and materiality of dancing bodies certainly seem to deserve further attention. For the launch of the catalogue, on June 4th, we are imagining a kind of "glossary" for DANSE, which will be a way to culminate on the work of the anthology and the catalogue, while also getting rid of these formats somehow. And so I am working on assembling a few figures and keywords that emerge from this work, while paying attention to what may be missing from the general picture. I am hoping this will give rise to a look at new terms and approaches for thinking "danse."