Interview not only about contemporary dance
He appeared as a guest of Natasha Novotna and Vaclav Kunes (dance unit 420people) in their performance in Archa Theatre on 22nd and 23rd of January. Abou Lagraa is a French-Algerian dancer and choreographer. Born in Annonay December 22, 1970, he began to dance at the age of 16, studied in Lyon at Conservatoire National Régional and Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse, from 1993 to 1996, he danced with Rui Horta (S.O.A.P. Dance Theater Frankfurt), and became his assistant for a project at the Gulbenkian in Lisbon. He founded the Compagnie la Baraka in February 1997, along with Aurélia Picot, a dancer in the company. In January 2004, Abou Lagraa and his company were awarded a four-year residency at Bonlieu Scène nationale in Annecy, where Abou Lagraa is an associate artist.
With 420people, he presented his solo from a choreography Où Transe (2005) and he also held a workshop of contemporary dance.
We met the same day, so at first I was interested how he liked the work with our young dancers.
I must say that they are at a very good technical level. They were very open, they wanted to learn something different, I´m sure. I had a lot of fun giving a class to them and I think they had a lot of fun too. I think they´re all coming to see the show this night, which is positive.
Why did you choose Où Transe for your Prague performance?
It wasn´t me, actually, as Natasha and Vaclav have seen my solo one year ago in America, and they thought it would be a good thing to bring here in Czechia, to have something – they said to me – different. I have a company with eighteen dancers, so I have big pieces but they asked me to come for a solo, so I said OK, it´s great, it´s a nice opportunity.
The choreography doesn´t have a story, does it.
No, it´s abstract. But I talk about humanity, about spirits, about getting elecrified, getting as a human being going through resistence of the body. Everyone can make his own story, but I was talking about „transe“, transformation, how a man can be a woman and how a man has a masculine and feminine part inside of him. Be strong, be week, be fragile and so on.
Do you think „story“ is still a part of dance?
It can be interesting, but it´s the past. In the past we had ballet with story, like Cinderella, all these ballets, ballet was talking about story, neoclassical dance was talking about story too. Modern dance is talking more about universal subjects, like the human being, human relations, it´s about our soul, our feelings, our way of thinking. That´s why it is important to have different choreographers all over the world, who have very different things to say. About how they feel in life, what they want, what they believe in. I think it´s old-fashioned now to tell a story.
But there are some people who always want to know quite exactly what´s going on on the stage.
That´s right. For example yesterday we had a talk with the public and there was one guy saying that he didn´t understand the duet, some particular moments, and he felt disturbed by it. That´s interesting, because people want to understand things but sometimes it´s nice just to feel, and to like or not to like something. But to hate something is also good, because it gives you an emotion at least.
Sometimes it might be enough to watch a good dancer, no matter whether you understand the piece or not...
Yes, sometimes it´s just enjoyable to see good dance, a good dancer with a lot of energy. To see beautiful movement, and you just get the energy, emotion, you enjoy it or you´re very surprised, and I think this is a challenge. For a dnacer – to be like that.
As a French dancer and choreographer, what did you know about our dance scene before you met Natasha and Vaclav?
I´ve seen some modern dance and I´ve seen a lot of ballet from Czechia. I know Jan Kodet, who is a friend of mine, he was working with me. I feel Czech dance today is still very conservative ... not something that makes you think too much or something which disturbes you. But it´s changing a lot, you see Vaclav for example is doing something very new and interesting. I think dancers and choreographers have to go out of the country to come back with something different. I don´t think if you stay in the country, you are able to see or to open yourself to something else. This is how actually things change in countries, in mentality, and I´m sure that the public is going to change, slowly but is going to change for sure. Because othervise it will be bored by just ballet.
I love ballet, I mean I have nothing to criticise, but I think there is something else in the world now. Cinderella is not the real world today. It´s beautiful, it´s clean, but the world is not clean today, the world is struggling. It´s a nice world, but it´s also a hard world, with terrorism, wars...
But sometimes people go to the theatre just to forget about this.
You´re right but I think that modern dance, contemporary dance, is not just about this, choreographers don´t talk about bad things, they also talk about nice things, about beauty, very positively.
For example my solo: I don´t think my solo is negative, I think it´s difficult, it shows you someone who can really go like crazy and you stare how the energy comes from, this is positive, I think. When you see the evening, the first piece of Vaclav is dark, and the second one is very light, and I think this is right, because this is not just nice or bad. Life is everything together and I think it is important that people and choreographer and dancer talk about this, because it is real.
Yesterday evening you talked about „diversity“.
Divesity is very important. It makes people and citizens of countries be able to choose, to see different way of thinking. And different way of putting dance on stage. This is very important, this is freedom. If people see different things, they are open and then they can say I don´t like this, I will never go again, this is the choice, this is the freedom. But you can´t say to people: this is it, you see Cinderella and that´s it. This is not freedom, this is making people become stupid. Because you make them think dance is ballet. No, dance is also people with emotion, with strong movement. You get disturbed sometimes, you don´t understand but you get something.
It´s not just with dance, it ´s also with other arts. For example I don´t like contemporary plastic art very much. I like going to the Mousée Louvre, to see classical things because I get more touch. But I know, and this is important, that some other kind of art exists. So one day maybe I will change my mind, and then try to understand and feel modern art differently. But I have a choice.
Did you study ballet too? In fact you started quite late with dancing, at 16.
To be a good dancer I had to do ballet. I did ballet, jazz dance, modern dance, hip-hop... I know that I am able to do what I´m doing today because I´ve learned ballet. Then I destroy it and make it mine, my own movement, but I think it´s very important for a dancer to have a classical technique.
Why did you start so late?
Because I didn´t know that dance existed. I was doing sport at school and one day I went to see a girlfriend of mine, she was doing a ballet class and she asked me to come. I came and I tried it and I loved it. Immediately I fell in love with dance, it was something very strong for me. But my parents are muslim, so it was very difficult to begin. I had to hide, I couldn´t tell them I wanted to be a dancer. Nowadays they are so proud of me, but at the beginning they didn´t understand.
What´s the main source of inspiration for your choreographies?
Normally, it´s human relations. It´s how to be different and to be together, and to work and dance and make something positive out of it. In my company, dancers come from all over the world, from Africa, South America, the United States, they come also from Asia, and from Europe of course, France, Spain, Germany, so they are my inspiration. And nature, water, sky, the air, the elements, it´s my inspiration because it gives me energy to work on. And music, I love music.
Do you like dancing in your own choreographies?
To be honest, I like to be out of my pieces, always, unless I´m doing a solo like yesterday or tonight. But if I have six or seven or more dancers, I need to be outside. I´ve danced a lot on stage, with Rui Horta I was doing 200 shows a year, all over the world, so I don´t need to go on stage again. Or if I do, it´s because I´m doing a solo or a duet with someone. But it´s better to be out, you can see the work and you can have a critical sight of what you´re doing. I put myself instead of the public, if I was in it, I wouldn´t be able to do that.
When did you start to do choreography?
Ten years ago. I’ve been dancing for twenty years now and I’ve had my company for ten years already. What is interesting, as soon as I first put my feet in the dance studio when I was sixteen, I knew I wanted to create one day.
I wanted to be a good dancer, so thats why I was travelling around the world for ten years, working with different choreographers to learn. In Germany, in America, in France... and I knew that after that, I would make my own things out of this. And then, ten years ago, I felt ready to start with my own work. I´m very happy about that. Because now, my company is touring all over the world, for ten years already. For me, it´s like a dream.
Is it easy to crate a new company in France?
It´s not easy because in France there are a lot of companies, but the system helps. It helps young choreographers and young projects, so we are very lucky. They help you in the beginning and you have to be good. If you´re not good, you won´t stay. But I know that in France it´s an exception from all over the world. This is a country where people really get money to work, which is not the same in America or in Germany. In France we have a system that helps the artists. It´s not a perfect system, but at least people who want to try something can get some money to start. And if they are talented, they get more money. That´s why I built my company in France.
Will you cooperate with Natasha and Vaclav on their new projects?
I will go on with them, for sure. I will invite them to France too. Maybe we will do a project together in the future. They are talented, they are strong, they know what they want and they´re very professional too. So it´s great to work with people like that.
Text and Photo: Lucie Kocourková, January 2008