(This interview dates back to 2004)
"AN AUDIENCE going to a contemporary dance performance requires courage. So, I feel each new work requires different keys or entry points," says Marseilles-based Michel Kelemenis, one of France's most popular dancer-choreographers, interacting with a group of Bangalore's movement artists in mid-February.
In the city as a facilitator for the path-breaking "Facets 2004", an international choreographic laboratory in January, then a participant in the Attakkalari Bangalore Biennial of movement arts from February 10-17, Keleminis in performance enchants with his fluent, yet intensely individual, movement vocabulary that melds interiority with eclectic wit. Teasing, tantalising, tentative yet tensile, he questions dance intrinsically by the volatile porosity of his choreographic creations.
In "Kiki La Rose", Kelemenis spoofs, yet pays tribute to, the schizophrenia latent in Russian dancer-choreographer Vaslav Nijinski's early 20th Century work, his own androgynous costume and the scattered rose petals onstage evoking ghosts within performances past and present, expertly fording cross-cultural rivers.
Even more singular was "K.Danza", a cadenced, 50-minute movement experiment — based on a dense, tricky four-part score by Philippe Fenelon, including two Tamil songs improvised by Eranchanathan — that casts Kelemenis additionally as interpreter.
Scripting scenes from an offstage soloist's life, bridging the schism between rehearsal, improvisation and performance, he brilliantly unveils the essential dancer.
Originally a trained gymnast, he founded the 18-year-old Compagnie Kelemenis that has since toured over 45 countries, with long-term collaborations with Japan and South Africa.
Terming his current first Indian trip "a visiting card", he is networking for a potential "Indian Summer" of arts in his home city in 2005, sparked by the now-fashionable joys of Bollywood and Buddha Bar. It could include performances by Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal and contemporary danseuse Padmini Chettur. Kelemenis' trip touched Mumbai, Kolkata, Pondicherry and Chennai.
His hands in constant motion, his expressive face flitting through myriad moods at the Alliance Francaise, Kelemenis shared facets of his life in dance. Excerpts from an interview:
Do western male dancers, in some sense, live in the shadow of Nijinski or Nureyev?
They're two different images to me... Nijinski was known as a huge ballet dancer, but his choreography proved the contrary of what he was known for. That created a scandal. The first solo I ever made arose from this schizophrenic rupture between Nijinski's ballet and his modern choreography... The choreographer in me has to show what interests the dancer within.
I found the unusual wit in your dance tantalising. Does this reflect your personality?
I trust the movement of the body in space. It gives me a positive feeling. Especially when my subject is tough, I try to show it optimistically. Ten years ago, I did a piece about the prevention of AIDS, with a clear message... (Miming an imaginary hand fan). I feel the fan of expression can be very large.
How would you rate the Attakkalari-organised "Facets" choreo-lab within a global framework?
Twenty years ago, I participated in something similar at Guildford, near London. Each choreographer had to make one new short work a day, working with different composers... In France, there would not be money enough for a workshop like "Facets", where I could see different levels and precisions.
To some dancers, it was exciting to experiment with lighting or music on the computer, which could change the equation between dance and technology. Personally, I believe it takes at least 10 years to become a dancer. I don't teach, except to professionals in Marseilles.
Was "K.Danza" an attempt to deconstruct dance?
I chose Fenelon's music that is so opposite to dance. Within that challenge, what is my freedom as a dancer? What can I discover of myself? (Laughing) The improvisations within the written piece are like chocolate crisps in dark chocolate. By weaving rehearsal moments into the performance, perhaps I was trying to trap the audience into looking at an abstract moment. Improvisation means more trust between the performer and the audience...
The glimpses of a dancer's inner life were moving. What triggered that?
I used to have open rehearsals. I want to show what happens at the back of the work. I'm sure it doesn't interfere with the magic face or what you've discovered of the work.
How did the Tamil song find its way into the score?
Fenelon's Tamil friend in Paris, who's not a trained singer, sang as a mother would to her child. Recorded two years ago, the lyrics expressed exactly what I was trying to say: `I am on one side of the river, you are on the other'. I need to talk to you, even if you are not here. It could be addressed to a dead or loved person. Or a parable for the bridge between the soloist and the audience.
How would you react to the current Indian debate between the classical and contemporary forms?
(Passionately) I feel it is important to preserve the pure tradition. It is dangerous to abstract these forms to become contemporary. If an Indian classical dancer is interested in opening his/ her mind, I'd like to train them long-term. After coming back, they have the possibility to question.
(The Hindu Sunday Magazine, 2004)