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Monday, April 14, 2014

Christian Rizzo on love, doubt, and David Bowie

French choreographer Christian Rizzo has a professional background in rock music, fashion, and visual art, and draws from all these experiences and more in his work. The following is a selection of his thoughts on the foundations of his choreography.

Christian Rizzo
The presence of another person engenders a question whose answer could be love, which for me is the essential reaction to all creation. The artist James Lee Byars said, "Beauty is the response, not the

To doubt is to begin without knowing the rules, to throw all the dice, and it allows me to avoid posturing and repetition. When I begin, I may have an idea and it is what it is, but the work doesn't exist yet. During the creation process I concentrate on a transformation revealed through the movement of the body, the music, and the lighting. I am interested in opposition. I work in the space between the action and its opposite. 

The scenic vocabulary gives shape to my observation. I am an artist who is not satisfied with the way things are organized. I need to organize a space and time that is the stage.

My concern is to stage the energy of dancers—the electric energy that Patti Smith refers to in rock music. In performance, energy is never wasted, but compressed. It gains volume in the interaction between dancers and their environment, the volume of vibration.

Any human undertaking is fragile and this makes our work together precious. The name of my company, “L’association fragile” may be understood as a warning—to be careful: “What we show here is fragile.” In my opinion, creative exploration is always fragile.

Today while the fortification of everything is axiomatic, I want to make it fragile. I never choose virtuoso dancers. I prefer a fragile body who can’t achieve everything but brings spirit to what is being done. There is space for the other person in making everything fragile. By itself, even the word is beautiful.

I like a mask that blurs identification. When I began to dance, the discrepancy between my physical
appearance and the ideal dancer allowed for variety. I explored this, and then left performing to be the
choreographer. I withdrew from the stage. This is what the portrait with my face obscured by the smoke of a cigarette suggests. (The poet and early modernist) Paul Morand said, “smoking enables a cloud between the self and the world.” On a theatrical stage, smoke is an artifact of manifestation and disappearance.

The staged Sfumato (one of the four canonical painting modes of the Renaissance) blurs shades and
shapes, obscures borders, and sharpens the role of the spectator in ambiguity, paradox and problem

It is through rock music that I came to performance. Indeed I did not wake up one morning telling myself, “Hey, I want to be Baryshnikov.” It was more my thing to be David Bowie. My initiation happened during a trip to London in 1978; I was 14 years old and deeply moved by punk. Later, I found my way watching the group The Residents on stage. They were masked, and they blurred notions of concert, performance, and ritual. The powerful sound and stage presence of the group My Bloody Valentine also deepened my understanding of my relation to space. Since then, my vision has always been music based, and all my performances conceived as albums.

From ni fleurs, ni ford-mustang. Photo: Michael Cavalca


The stage of the theater is the place where I bring what I have prepared. In French I use the word plateau; it means the stage, but also the tray used to bring food. I like the association with the kitchen. It is like cooking a meal, then sharing it. I am interested in an organic articulation between the stage and the audience. The performance materializes an idea in movement that vibrates in the present, and there, the audience attends its manifestation.

The evocative power of titles invites an imaginary journey, travel to a performance to come. Instead of proposing a subject, at first the title intends to produce an effect. The title introduces. It is the first
composition. A few years ago, I used long titles excerpted from romantic novels. Now I prefer short
sentences as a device to set a story in motion, to aim at the shape on the horizon. I refer to the title of a novel by Patrick Modiano that I am very fond of. I do not begin to work with images but with elements of fiction that are full of possibilities, and I cannot begin without a title.

At last, here it is!

It is very disturbing to notice that something always escapes our relation to the present time. The 21st century sounds a bit like science-fiction, doesn’t it? The quickening pace of History demands that I examine my own practice: does The Body remain a subject for exploration? Do I have skill and means enough to perceive the present? I linger over Arthur Rimbaud’s notion that “one has to be truly modern.” At the same time, what moves me is the direct experience of the world.

Theaters are these spaces that maintain a direct, live relation to experience. No technology—even the most advanced - can replace it. To the people who tell me they have seen all my performances on the Internet, my reply is always the same, “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

Christian Rizzo’s comments recorded by Stéphane Malfettes in Lille, France, on December 20, 2011.
English translation by LUNCHEONETTE (May 2012). Read the full text here

On May 7—9, 2014, The Lyon Opera Ballet will perform Christian Rizzo's ni fleurs, ni ford mustang at BAM as part of DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

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