A dialogue between the arts

Encounter with Nicolas Paul

By Solène Souriau 07 June 2017

© Julien Benhamou / OnP

Nicolas Paul

A dialogue between the arts

Sébastian Bertaud, Bruno Bouché, Simon Valastro and Nicolas Paul, all dancers with the Paris Opera, offer us their creations for the company’s dancers on the stage of the Palais Garnier. An opportunity to examine the choreographer’s profession and, more importantly, to reveal to the public four personalities, four of today’s dancers and four choreographers of tomorrow.

How did this project – the creation of a work on several pieces of sacred music by Josquin des Prés – come into being?

This project was born out of research in several areas: research on the historic periods of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance which have fascinated me for a long time, and also on the theme of the Flood and its representations in those periods, which struck me as being surprisingly modern by their simplicity and starkness. Alongside that, Jean-Christophe and I developed work on the body and water using video.

Does the title directly evoke the episode of the Flood in Genesis?

Yes, the description of the water which, during the flood, reaches “seven and a half metres above the mountains”. The modernisation of this passage from the Bible amused me (translations tend to refer to cubits which was the basic unit of measurement) and on a more serious note raises the issue of the modernisation of narrative.

What references do you make in your choreography to medieval iconography?

In the notation of movement one finds hand positions directly inspired by pictorial representations from the Middle Ages which accord a crucial importance to this part of the body. A certain treatment of colour also seemed to me to be very specific to this period, as is the question of perspective.

How is the video footage you created with Jean-Christophe Guerri articulated around the dancers on stage?

The video is treated as a series of tableaux and forms a direct contrast with what is happening on stage. Whilst the choreography, characterised by its profusion, is very dense and rapid, the video offers a succession of fixed images, rather slow with imperceptible movements. Through this contrast, I’m hoping that the two art forms will create a dialogue.

Simon Valastro, Nicolas Paul, Bruno Bouché, Sébastien Bertaud, dans la salle du Palais Garnier
Simon Valastro, Nicolas Paul, Bruno Bouché, Sébastien Bertaud, dans la salle du Palais Garnier © Julien Benhamou / OnP

Does video provide a bridge between this period of history and today?

The image of a drowned corpse immediately evokes recent events and a series of geopolitical situations. It is absolutely necessary to be aware of this mirror effect. However, I was seeking to evoke an intimate perception of the flood which might be psychological or social, not necessarily political.

You joined the Paris Opera School of Dance in 1989 and the Corps de Ballet in 1996. What does it mean to you to take part in the House’s official season?

For me, this production exemplifies the diversity that an institution like the Paris Opera Ballet is capable of generating, - the different personalities that have developed and flourished with its support. On a more personal level, I have another three years with the company before I retire. This piece, therefore, is probably that last that I shall create for the Company before I end my career as a dancer.

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