Boris Charmatz

He could have played the violin or be an ace at ping-pong, but Boris Charmatz chose to dance, or perhaps dance chose him, as a promise of the extension of its boundaries. In just a few years, he became a sort of dance activist, constantly in movement, preferring to explore territories where he wasn't expected, where he himself didn't expect to set foot. Born in 1973, Boris Charmatz studied at the Opéra de Paris ballet school and then at the Conservatoire national supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Lyon. He has been hired as a dancer for Régine Chopinot, Odile Duboc and Meg Stuart, but also participated in improvisational events with the musicians Archie Shepp and Médéric Collignon. He gradually bid farewell to a career that was already mapped out, and opened a new one through paths that had yet to be cleared: it's up to the body to reveal everything that has yet to be discovered.

His encounter with the choreographer Odile Duboc in 1993 has been crucial: she offered him to join her Projet de la matière (Project in Matter), a matter to be danced not without having weighed the words of Bachelard or Blanchot. This experience reflected on his own creations, the play on words in their titles and subtitles that drew trajectories from the begining: Aatt enen tionon (1996), his vertical piece on three stage levels, his heightened vertigos; héâtre-élévision (2002), an installation for a single spectator and contained in a TV set; régi (2006) and its machines at work on inert bodies. Since À Bras-le-corps (1993), co-signed with Dimitri Chamblas, Boris Charmatz has been tackling dance, engaging it in a pas de deux to endlessly question it: on its history and the way we teach, transmit and conserve it, on its ability to constantly move to different areas whether it be in visual arts, cinema or literature. Dance cannot be exclusively knowledge or skill: according to Boris Charmatz, dance must be approached in the interrogative mode. Dancing is one among other possible responses to dance, but the only one that he cannot do without.

Boris Charmatz is sometimes annoyed with being described as a "conceptual" artist: any classification implies a systematization that his own system does not permit. In his own way, he distrusts conceptualism, the confinement that it implies. If a concept must absolutely be picked out, it will be found in the show rather than its premises. Concept is neither a statement nor an object that needs to be illustrated, but a product of dance movements. The gesture does not illustrate the thought: it must anticipate it, compel it, encompass it. When concept shows through, with Levée des conflits (2010) for example, he belies it through symphony, he sweats it until it disappears. Concept is less productive than "complexity." Complexity lies in contradiction. It requires digging to get back to simplicity, to a combination of essential gestures. The vocabulary must follow here as well. Contradiction is its fuel.

In January, shortly after being appointed to the Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne, Boris Charmatz transformed it into a Dance Museum. Museum and dance? "Yes," he says, "that's also a question." On this occasion, it is interesting to read his Manifesto: an extremely elegant writing, a danced - but all the same well-argued - thought. The main thing, once again, is that dance does not only lie in dance. The museum is not the container but the content. It opens up to the visitor-spectator-dancer, thanks to him and with him. This museum will be nomadic, just like his previous school project: Bocal. Stage, school and museum must be kept together in order to reopen the public space and extend it, especially now that it is threatened. Public space, public service, public arena: at the Festival d'Avignon, Boris Charmatz deals with his major preoccupations. He listens to the world where he has never ceased to be and which dance, in the end, permits him to make audible.

Last year, at the Festival d'Avignon, Boris Charmatz presented La Danseuse malade, with Jeanne Balibar and texts by Tatsumi Hijikata, and Flip Book, a reading from Merce Cunningham's work.

JLP, March 2011.

Portrait of Boris Charmatz © César Vayssié