Beatboxing, b-boys, a beach and a balloon enlarge our concept of ‘dance’ in the fifth edition of the multi-disciplinary choreographic competition
Since 2010, Danse Élargie, a Paris-based biannual international competition ‘open to artists from all disciplines’, has fostered young artists and springboarded its winners to bigger stages and networks, and greater recognition. Co-founded by the Musée de la Danse – National Choreographic Centre in Rennes, and Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, Danse Élargie was created to push the boundaries of dance performance, inviting other disciplines to join the field and mingle, embodying an expanded (élargie) vision of dance.
Over its five editions, Danse Élargie has become something of a benchmark for multi-disciplinary performance and collaboration. It is a trial by fire for the artists invited to perform at Théâtre de la Ville before international jury members, with a packed audience who are free to stay or leave throughout the day.
The rules are simple: applicants must propose an original piece, not longer than 10 minutes and with at least three performers. This year there were 460 applications from 70 countries, with 18 selected for the first round, and 10 for the second day. The final pieces showcased some intricate hybridisations of movements and styles, especially by a new generation of urban dance choreographers.
Family Honour, a hip hop theatre piece inspired by the personal story of British artist Kwame Asafo-Adjei, which garnered enthusiasm from a moved audience won first prize. The piece throws us into a tense atmosphere: a couple sitting on each side of a table start a virulent dialogue of sharp and precise motions enhanced by organic sound, and emphasised by a barely lit beatboxer. Soon other dancers, all dressed in black, join them. Their silhouettes manipulate the central duet as if they were puppeteers. Individual images come across (family, prisons, visiting area, fights) and the interweaving of story with dance, sound and lighting make for a cinematic experience. Family Honour is performed by breathtaking movers, jolting, twitching, bursting in space, telling what reads as a violent story.
Second on the podium was MUR/MER by French-Belgian artist Elsa Chêne, with a completely different aesthetic. The stage slowly fills with people with commonplace beach gear: flip-flops, inflatable toys, towels and swimsuits. As if weighed down by the heat, they take their place on stage in a lethargic manner, all turned away to face the horizon in the shape of a dully lit scrim. But the idleness of vacation grows imperceptibly awkward. As the stage fills with more performers, some of them slowly curl up and twist into disturbing positions. The calm and peaceful horizon transforms into a destroying sea, ejecting wreckage and bodies onto the stage. Subtly thought-provoking, MUR/MER (which translates as ‘wall/sea’) echoes the murmur of the sea and its devastating promise for many migrants, a topic more important than ever.
Third prize went to French artist Ousmane Sy and his crew of seven skilled female hip hop dancers who literally took over the crowd. Conceived as a celebration of female hip hop, Queen Blood introduces a group of Amazonian dancers, pushing the borders of their own physical limits, challenging the audience, moving to stirring music. Sy shows here the unique choreographic language he has developed over the years: a mix of house and Afro-house styles, enhanced by the personal touch of his performers. It was an undeniable public success, winning the both third prize and the technicians prize after it received huge applause and transformed the room into a dance floor.
Perhaps the judges made too obvious a choice with this crowd-pleaser, yet their top three were certainly very contrasting pieces. Still, I regret that Apaches, by star French b-boy Saïdo Lehlouh won neither the jury’s nor public’s favour. Apaches’ stunning hip hop performers, moving in a constellation-like format, was exquisite and a change from the usual battle space of breaking.
Among other finalists worth mentioning were the visually impressive WRECK: List of extinct species by Italian Pietro Marullo, its astounding black balloon creating captivating moments; the mesmerising spiral of running naked bodies in All-physical poem of protest by Norwegian Mia Habib; and the more conceptual France-Croatie by Natacha Steck, a dance-theatre story of a football game told through haka-like movements which, though inspired by the 1998 World Cup semifinal, also – should we have betted? – prefigured the 2018 finalists by a full month.
Danse Élargie’s deliberate nurturing of group pieces is particularly valuable in a landscape too often dominated by solos and duets
Danse Élargie once again served as a vital platform for experimentation and artistic statement. Its deliberate nurturing of group pieces is particularly valuable in a landscape too often dominated by solos and duets, presumably due to lack of funds. With generous cash prizes (from €1500 to €15,000) that can buoy emerging careers, touring opportunities and the promise of visibility from a wide network of professionals, Danse Élargie has become a reference point in the artistic calendar. Bold ideas defended with fervour, cadenced by the cheers of the audience and a final performance, called Crash Test and featuring all the participants, also make this a one-of-a-kind event, where the stage atmosphere expands to fill the whole theatre – and beyond – with an enlarged spirit of collective collaboration. ●