Boris Charmatz, the man who wants to make you dance
Only weeks after getting 20,000 people to dance over 10 hours on the tarmac of Berlin’s old Tempelhof airport, the French dancer and choreographer is about to repeat the trick at the vast 104 arts centre in Paris on Sunday.
While the American photographer Spencer Tunick persuades people to take off their clothes for mass nude shots, Charmatz has similarly inspired tens of thousands to shed their hang-ups about dancing.
He described his “Crazy for Dance” happening as not just a “mega bash” but a mass initiation into the joys and mysteries of modern dance classics, from Isadora Duncan to Lucinda Childs.
“It’s about forming a dancing community,” he said.
When you can attract 20,000 people to an old airport to dance “clearly you are responding to a need”, he told AFP.
And 44-year-old Charmatz fills that need by taking his audiences by the hand through great contemporary pieces, some of his own work which can be danced by anyone, and joyous cult moves from the 1970s US television series “Soul Train”.
Dancing in the shower
“We go from a warm-up to a rehearsal with the public to create a piece, to a kind of living exhibition of dance with a whole forest of solos” by professional dancers which people can watch or try to copy themselves, he said.
At Berlin he had everything from traditional Greco-Turkish “zeybek” dances to the cutting edge Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. In Paris on Sunday he will also take in hip-hop and Breton folk steps.
“The idea is that we share the culture of choreography,” said Charmatz, who also heads a dance conservatory in the western French city of Rennes, which he has turned into what he calls the “Dancing Museum”.
All of which has made him into one of the rising stars of dance, a huge irony for someone who comes out of the “non-dance” movement.
Non-dance was born in the mid-1990s by mixing dance with art and video, with one-off performances often in public spaces such as squares and railway stations.
“I like the idea that dance is something bigger than a show in a theatre, that it can also be something you can do on YouTube or in the shower,” Charmatz added.
“They called us pseudo intellectuals,” he recalled, “and said they neither wanted to do or see what my generation of artists like Xavier Le Roy and Jerome Bel were up to.
Shows ‘must be free’
“But we became extremely popular in museums,” with Charmatz himself putting on performances in a string of major galleries, from MoMa in New York to Tate Modern in London as well as staging his acclaimed “20 Dancers for the XX Century” in the gilded corridors and stairwells of the Paris Opera rather than on its stage.
“MoMa and Tate Modern have been pioneers for the last 15 years of what a museum could be in the 21st century. Not only a museum of objects but also of thought, movement and performance,” he said.
Charmatz has been credited with bringing a new public to museums, but he insists on his events being free.
“It allows you to create differently. In Rennes when we did ‘Crazy for Dance’ there we had 16,000 people” in the city’s main square.
“There were people who were going to the cinema or out doing their shopping who came across it and joined in. Would they do that if they had to pay?” he asked.
“I really believe in it being free. We often talk about making things democratic and accessible, but for me being free opens up all sorts of interesting artistic possibilities too.
“If you go to an opera you get your ticket in advance and you go as if you were going into a shrine.
“If you go to (his show in) 104 (in Paris) where there is no stage, where you have got the most professional dancers down to children, and where dance lovers and the public are at the same level” there is a spark which is you don’t find elsewhere, he argued.
That has not stopped Charmatz creating “normal” pieces like “10,000 Gestures” for the Manchester International Festival this summer which The Guardian described as “a thrilling blizzard of movement”, which he will take to the Palais de Chaillot theatre in Paris next month.
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