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Portrait: Marie Houdin's project with New Orleans-based performers

© Lam Nguyen

French choreographer and dancer Marie Houdin, member of Engrenage[s], will present her project New Orleans Fever: A Bridge of Dance between Continents in October 2021 in France. Initially supported by the Institut français and the Région Bretagne for a first phase of development in New Orleans, the artistic exchange New Orleans Fever is now supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in partnership with FACE Foundation, through the 2020 FUSED program, for a second phase in France.

Giving Birth to « The Unexpected Dance » as a Dialogue between Continents

In 2014, Marie Houdin flies to New Orleans. There, she discovers the « Second Lines » cultures and continues to be captivated by the lively mix of funk and hip-hop cultures. Around her, Baby Dolls, Black Indians, and Skulls and Bones gangs gather together to dance and talk with their bodies about their common history. This encounter is a turning point for Marie Houdin as it will be the starting point of an artistic approach under the symbolic name "The Unexpected Dance".

"Creolisation rules over the unpredictable compared to race mix; it creates in all Americas, absolutely unexpected cultural and linguistic microclimates, places where repercussions of languages on one another or of cultures on one another are abrupt." Édouard Glissant (The title "The Unexpected Dance" is inspired by the writings of Édouard Glissant, who defined the concept of "creolisation")

She first created Bal du "Tout-Monde" (The All-World Ball) in 2017 as a participatory performance, inviting artists and the audience to share all kinds of dances from the great African kingdoms to the Taino Islands. She then moved on to Unexpected, a solo performance in 2019, embodying the dialogue between a musician and a dancer while presenting the social function of dance. The third stage of the project "The Unexpected Dance" is particularly dense since it involves research trips and choreographic exchanges. Between November 2018 and April 2019, Marie Houdin traveled to Cuba, Senegal and again to New Orleans to start collecting social and traditional dances, to create an artistic dialogue between continents and to work for the decolonization of spirits and bodies.

"The Tout-Monde therefore points out the new presence of both human beings and things, a state of globalness where Relation rules." Édouard Glissant

Collective Memories and Universal Dances

Interviewed by the Institut français, Marie Houdin explains why she chose these three destinations for her research work and what the on-site collection process was:

« I based my choices on the map of transatlantic trafficking and French colonial history while taking an interest in dances that have both a social and a ritual dimension to them, dances that convey a history and are still very popular today, and which are continuing to evolve. This quest led me to the Senegalese sabar, the Cuban rumba, and, finally, second-line Buckjumping and the dances of the New Orleans "Mardi Gras Indian” culture. These dances are alive and unpredictable. And they are not danced anywhere in the world the same way they are in their homelands. »

« I was able to film local, community, and traditional events, some spontaneous, others the result of extensive planning, which allowed me to meet with dancers and interview them. I try to follow a protocol that I have created through my choreographic research, based on the fundamental elements that link these dances together while also setting them apart. The interviews take place in two stages: a question and answer session and a danced interview. I invited some of these dancers back afterward, to do what I called "danced dialogues," with three dancers. Most of them invited me to follow them at their shows, in their dance classes, and with their families. So I was able to film some of them on completing a whole journey. Finally, whenever possible, there was a whole range of spontaneous data collection, depending on the culture of each country. »

Based on all this upstream work, Marie Houdin plans new projects in line with her choreographic approach around the notions of resilience, identity, and memory. Among them, the French-New Orleanian artistic exchange, New Orleans Fever, with performances in New Orleans (U.S.), Orleans, Lille and Rennes (France) aims to question the place of dance in the public space, to work with local artists and to reflect on decolonization through identity and resistance. Indeed, New-Orleanian artists participating in this project - Rodrick "Scubble" Davis, Terrylyn Dorsey, and Jessica Donley - specialize in different types of dance including footwork, swing, and bounce, but they also share a common genre: Buckjumping. Buckjumping is a dance and a form of resistance against oppression, slavery, and segregation. Learning from these local artists is fundamental for Marie Houdin who does not want to reproduce these very personal gestures but tries to understand the social dimension of these community dances. New Orleans Fever is a research and sharing project that reminds us of how dance is a means of expression and identity.

Here is a video of the French dancers taking part in the New Orleans Fever project, Virginie Savary, Houth Chonbura "BBoy Cambo" and Marie Houdin:

About Marie Houdin

Since 2004, Marie Houdin has been a dancer and choreographer at Compagnie Engrenage[s]. She specialized in funkstyle (locking, Electric Boogaloo, waacking, and footworking) alongside Greg Campbellock Jrs. and the Electric Boogaloos members among others. Until 2010, she co-choreographed several shows, a dance lecture, and the Funk Ball "I Feel Good". That same year, she created the performance "Roots" and from 2012, she co-directs the festival "Le Funk prend les Rennes", in the city of Rennes. Passionate about the meaning of creolized dances, she continued to learn various dance techniques from Acogny technique developed by  Germaine Acogny (École des sables-Toubab Dialaw-Sénégal), and Dunham technique from Katherine Dunham (Katherine Dunham Centers For Arts and Humanities – St Louis- USA), both artists who have influenced her work. In 2014, she created "Red Line Crossers" and co-produced the festival "Tombées de la Nuit". Then, in 2015 she created "Soul Train Géant" before turning to her personal project "The Unexpected Dance".

About Engrenage[s]

The Compagnie Engrenage[s] was created in 2003 by Franck Guizonne and Céline Mousseau. Dedicated to hip-hop and funk dances, the Compagnie produced 17 shows with more than 600 performances between 2003 and 2016. The Compagnie Engrenage[s] became a Generator of artistic projects from 2017 onwards, accompanying artists influenced by urban cultures and encouraging innovative artistic research projects.