A guest at the Palais Garnier from 3rd to 8th September of this year, dancer and choreographer Nicolas Paul is about to make history with the Martha Graham Dance Company. For this tour, the company’s first since 1991, he has composed his own vision of Martha Graham’s iconic solo Lamentation, first performed in 1930. A conversation on work in progress with something of a challenge about it.
In what context did the Martha Graham Company approach you for this work?
Did you already know Martha Graham’s piece?
In your previous piece, Sept metres et demi au-dessus des montagnes, created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2017, the idea of entrances and exits was already there ...
I’ve noticed that certain systems are beginning to establish themselves in most
of my pieces, even if, of course, this takes different forms. I’ve always had the
feeling that movement, in itself, has no interest. It’s as if a basic mechanism
were necessary to justify the fact that one is prompted to dance, to summon up
a gesture, to begin or end with such or such a movement. I often draw a
parallel with pictorial art: when the artist begins to paint, s/he takes into
account the dimensions of the canvas. If there’s nothing to set things in
motion, I can’t see the point. And ultimately, this is particularly true of
Martha Graham’s piece: the framework exists, and the gesture springs out of it.
I think that the concept is not enough in itself. It’s only once one has the
outer structure that one can turn to the content, and that things begin to take
on a life of their own. The basic mechanism eradicates doubt and engenders
Your previous creations were strongly inspired by pictorial references; is it also the case for this piece?
What is your relationship with Graham’s technique?
was trained in the Graham technique at the Ballet School but, to tell you the
truth, I don’t feel close to any technique in particular. I have been lucky
enough, at the Paris Opera, to have tackled many different techniques and
continue to discover new ones. What Martha Graham brought to dance has
permeated everything that has been done since. Inevitably, I’ve approached it
as a dancer with the Ballet. When I undertake choreographic research, I’m not
trying to follow in this or that vein, I’d run the risk of constantly censoring
myself. Apart from the purely classical French school, to which school could I
legitimately lay claim?
For this work, did you draw on sensations you have experienced as a dancer and performer?
As a choreographer, and even more so when one is also a performer, one inevitably draws on one’s corporeal memory. My body has stored up in an unconscious manner my different roles and interpretations. But choreography is also a matter of confronting one’s own experience with that of the dancer, and that is what I try to prioritise. They constitute two different aspects of the task and allow the establishment of a balanced relationship between the choreographer and the dancer. The preparation of this piece can’t take place with the performers of the Martha Graham Dance Company, which has obliged me to carry out the initial task of writing by myself. I am impatient to meet the dancers to rework the material with them and finish writing the piece.
Your reading: Echoing Gestures