Left: woman in bright red top, white shorts and patterned socks, in kooky pose. Right: 3 figures in dark clothes, one upright, two kneeling


Danse Élargie: almost ridding dance of its borders

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Help by Yoko Omori, at Danse Élargie 2022. Photo © Nora Houguenade
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Who were the hits, also-rans and could-haves/should-haves at the international Danse Élargie competition for new choreography?

Every two years, Danse Élargie (‘dance expanded’) sends out its call for submissions. The premise is very alluring: the contest hopes to open up the borders of dance. It describes itself as ‘a call to artists from all over the world, from every field, without age limits, to introduce utterly original projects to be staged.’ The only criteria to submit a piece: it has to be a maximum of 10 minutes long and showcase at least 3 people on stage.

The application form invites artists ‘To dare anything that dances, in the broadest sense of the term. To invent future movements.’

What’s not to love?

For this seventh edition of the competition, companies were called in to dance in real life once again in Thêatre de la Ville’s temporary home, the Espace Cardin in Paris (the previous edition had taken place online because of Covid). On the weekend of the 25–26 June 2022, 18 projects hailing from France to India to Australia were selected out of over 450 applicants to present their work for a jury of artists: Marion Barbeau, a dancer at the Opéra de Paris as well as actress; songwriter, writer and actress Jehnny Beth; writer and director Mohamed El Khatib; visual artist and performer Kubra Khademi; dancer and choreographer Calixto Neto; choreographer (and Aerowaves artist) Christos Papadopoulos; and Tiago Rodrigues, a dramaturg, theatre director and incoming director of France’s prestigious Festival d’Avignon. Two special prizes were also given by different observers: one awarded by a group of young students training pre-professionally in dance, and the other chosen by the event’s technicians, who had been witnessing these new works for the whole week of preparation.

And so, did Danse Élargie fulfil its promise? Did it challenge and enlarge our view of what dance is and who performs it? To a certain degree, though not all of the prizes reflected that.

The stand-outs

On Day 1 of the competition, all 18 projects performed their 10-minute piece. Four stood out immediately for their topicality and the depth they managed to explore in such short windows of time.

Leïla Ka’s Bouffées was a gem of simplicity, sorority and emotion. Five women embark on an exploration of pain, struggle and mental load where the only music is the sound of their breath. Their individualities come through but the universality of their stories shoots straight for your heart.

Yoko Omori’s Help delves into the meanderings of the mind and its emotions. The piece is delicately humorous, Omori’s choreography as complex and precise as it is unique. As she tries to navigate the complex flux of thoughts in her head, symbolised by grey dancers swooshing around her and ignoring her, our empathy for her is immediate.

Tidiani N’Diaye’s Mer Plastique explores the ecological disaster we’re living in. The joyful pastel colours and the gentle twirls of the dancers almost make us forget the gravity of the situation. But the dancers are giant heaps of plastic. Their moves make them shuffle around an even more giant heap of plastic that spills from the stage onto the audience as the performance goes on. There’s no escaping our self-inflicted doom.

Finally, Josué Mugisha’s La Première Danse Politique questions the weight of history from the standpoint of a former colony. What happens when the traumas you carry in your mind and down to your cells are not recognised, but you need to voice them anyway? Mixing theatre and dance, it was striking for its raw energy and the dancers’ powerful and inhabited performances.

Those I missed in the final

On Day 2 of the competition, only 12 projects were left to compete for the coveted prizes but there are a couple I wish had made the cut.

Collectif ES’s Mireille delighted by its joyful approach to a controversial text: France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise, as sung by one of France’s Frenchest of singers, Mireille Mathieu. It was exciting to be part of this game where each individual dance amplified the myriad of meanings of a single phrase.

Claire Durand-Drouhin’s Une Famille Singulière answered the competition’s initial premise in more ways than one: by inviting people with physical constraints and ‘behavioural disorders’ – which some might even call handicaps – she questioned the rules of who gets to be on a stage. Her exploration of this seemingly dysfunctional yet united family of misfits made for refreshing yet deep piece.

Dark stage with 3 distant figures beneath smoky spotlights and bars at the back.
Core by Jerson Diasonama. Photo © Nora Houguenade

So who won anyway?

Without much surprise, if the applause on the day was any indication, Leïla Ka’s Bouffées received the first prize, while Yoko Omori’s Help won the second. Jerson Diasonama’s Core got the third prize, a piece the jury lauded for its punk spirit and immersive use of space (dancers came in from all areas of the theatre), but which I found lacking in terms of storytelling. The winners receive prize money and access to residencies in France with the competition partners, the CCN-Ballet national de Marseille – direction (LA)HORDE and the Collectif FAIR-E / CCN de Rennes et de Bretagne. While these pieces are very worthy of recognition and further support, I’m not sure that – going back to Danse Élargie’s earlier premise – they’re the projects that most broaden the borders of dance out of the 18 propositions.

The Youth jury made a bolder choice in giving their award to Ionna Paraskevopoulous Coconut Effect, a playful exploration of the way sound can shape movement and create choreography. The young Greek choreographer will now be invited to plunge these trainee dancers into her universe to create original work with them next year. The technicians gave out two prizes: another to Omori’s Help and the second to What Did You Do Behind The Curtain? by the Palestinian Stereo48 Dance Company, a piece exploring the intricacies of communication.

My honorable mentions

A few pieces deserve a special shout-out for the ways in which they did push the boundaries of what we call dance. Louise Buléon Kayser’s Roi Musclée hilariously unpacked notions of gender expression and identity while pointing to the wall humanity is rushing towards when it comes to social interactions and even environmental awareness. Her dancers’ eerie, barely human body language, a subtle mix of dancing and acting, was a wonder to witness.

Bruce Chiefare’s Break could have been sharper in terms of dramaturgy, but the simple act of giving a breakdance session the rhythm of a tea ritual gave the opportunity to look at this style not just for its physical prowess but to linger over its beauty and artistic complexity.

In including these pieces in its selection, Danse Élargie does the first part of the job it sets for itself: showing audiences emerging trends of exploration in dance. Maybe for the next edition in two years’ time, more out-of-the-box contenders will access the podium. 

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Espace Cardin, Paris, France
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