Perspectives

Fluidity and Abandon

Bolero by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet seen by Vincent Chaillet, Premier Dancer — By Aliénor de Foucaud

Until May 27th, Premier dancer Vincent Chaillet returns to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet’s Boléro, at the Palais Garnier.. As much a physical exploit as a sensorial voyage, this ballet has been a unique experience in Chaillet’s career and one that has left his mark on him.


You were cast in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet’s Boléro for its premier in 2013; what are your memories of that encounter?

I was indeed lucky enough to take part in the Boléro adventure when it was first performed in 2013 and to work with two choreographers whose work I had followed closely and already admired. It also gave me the opportunity to meet the artist Marina Abramović who was responsible for the scenography, and the designer Riccardo Tisci who created the costumes. The entire team was present for the first few rehearsals. The choreographers arrived with some of the material, choreographic phrases already written, and then the articulation of the piece was established in the studio with the dancers.

Boléro remains above all a disturbing experience. There is nothing comfortable about this choreography, but rather a permanent sense of risk. Something compelling takes place, obliging us to adapt and readapt constantly. This piece is essentially marked by a duality, requiring both calm, indispensable for overcoming fatigue, and a state of constant alertness to what is going on around you.

For this revival, the original casting has changed and some dancers are discovering the piece for the first time. It is interesting to hand the work on to others. It has allowed me to go further in my search for excellence; I’m no longer learning and enjoy a certain fluidity in my search for new material. In fact, the choreographers have been much less present than for the first production, giving us complete autonomy for a total of two weeks (except for our rehearsal coach Béatrice Martel). We were left on our own much more, which obliged us to take the piece in hand and analyse things, take decisions. We had much more responsibility compared to the initial process of learning the choreography.

Vincent Chaillet en répétition, 2017
Vincent Chaillet en répétition, 2017 © Laurent Philippe / OnP

You mention energy and fluidity. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui speaks of balance, which is also very important in this ballet: “A dance that sinks into the floor”, “a body in permanent suspension”. How have you tackled this new choreographic language within your career as a dancer?

I have never gone so far in my relationship with the floor and in my approach to performance. The object of the choreography is to go towards continuous movement, without a break. As the piece unfolds, it gets progressively more and more physical. You have to remain in a state of constant mobility, aware of what you are doing whilst giving a lot of energy. That construction generates a certain fatigue. Each movement, each fall engenders another, we are in a state of permanent imbalance, in a crescendo both musical and choreographic forming a continuous spiral.


This choreography has its origins in the whirling dervish. The scenography echoes this constantly turning spiral. How is that conveyed on stage in your interpretation?

The first rehearsals on stage were a real shock. Marina Abramović’s scenography is very unsettling. The stage is very dark; our positions evolve in accordance with videos projected onto the surface of the stage; a mirror leans in the opposite direction from the slope of the stage; dry ice contributes to the general fog in which we are plunged; all our usual visual markers are altered. You have to let yourself work with just your sensations, forget your reflection in the mirror and focus only on what you can feel. All the dancers have identical costumes, so we don’t necessarily recognise each other. The choreography is divided into eighteen sequences, each theme corresponding to a change in the image being projected and its place on the floor. The dancers have thus to adapt to each new sequence whilst creating an impression of continual flux. This Boléro leads us towards a state of abandon, you have to accept the outcome. The idea of outdoing yourself, of a physical exploit is at the heart of the choreography, which probably also echoes the work of Marina Abramović and the states of trance that she manages to reach when she performs. I remember her at the premiere encouraging us to pursue our “imaginary double” in order to liberate ourselves more fully and achieve total abandonment.


Boléro au Palais Garnier, Opéra national de Paris, 2017
Boléro au Palais Garnier, Opéra national de Paris, 2017 © Laurent Philippe / OnP

You mentioned the musical and choreographic crescendo. You were also cast in Maurice Béjart’s Boléro on the same score by Ravel. What was your experience of the two pieces?

The pieces are very different. With Béjart, we are more in something constructed around a single entity. With Cherkaoui and Jalet, on the other hand, there is a sense of the group. Something immutable, almost like a ritual takes place on stage. With Béjart, the musical crescendo is echoed by the development of the group around the table, whereas with Cherkaoui and Jalet the progression is more in terms of energy and physical exertion. The eleven dancers are all on stage from the beginning and move unceasingly from start to finish. In Béjart there is very little physical contact between the dancers, with the attention focussed entirely on the table, whereas Cherkaoui and Jalet’s Boléro imposes a certain proximity between the dancers’ bodies: as the piece unfolds, the dancers get closer until they form a single body locked in a final embrace. We are in osmosis with each other.    

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