Ballet BC will perform a new creation by Serge Bennathan in Program 3 , the last program of its 2018-19 season. I interviewed Serge to find out more about his creative process.
Performances run May 9-11, 2019 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. Tickets & info at https://balletbc.com/performance/program-3-2019/
March 28, 2019
It’s wonderful to have you collaborate with Ballet BC again.
I have been blessed to have a long relationship with the company that goes back to when Reid Anderson was the artistic director. Each time I have witnessed the emergence of extraordinary artists, and right now the company is spectacular. I had quite a profound experience working with all of them for this creation.
How did this creation begin?
When Emily Molnar approached me to work with the company, the question in my mind was: how do I leave my poetry in a society that is so codified, so structured. In some ways I admire people who have the courage to extract oneself from society. Writer Joseph Campbell describes this in his quote: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This is not the story of this creation, but it is simply the essence that I had in me.
For this piece, I also I have this sense of approaching something and embracing it, knowing that the journey is going to be full of difficulty, and that you need to find a source of resilience. You can’t really think consciously about it; you have to find the source of that feeling and embrace it.
What is your creative process?
Before going into the studio with the dancers, I spend a certain amount of time alone finding that essence and exploring those feelings as if it were another layer of myself. When I come into the studio to start working with the dancers, I trust that my body, my flesh and muscles are expressing those feelings, and I can just let my body talk. I don’t think about specific movements.
Choreographing is just the beginning. The majority of the work is created with the dancers because what interests me is the artist. In whatever work that I do, I want people to see it for the artist who is performing it.
Explain more about how the dancer is central to your creative process.
I want to find the poetry within these dancers – the essence and the unsaid of the physical being – and then marry this poetry with the physicality of the work. I don’t want their minds to consciously think about the process of interpretation. Rather, I want the dancers to go within themselves to embody that energy and then let their bodies speak. I may begin with a certain structure to the choreography, but I don’t mind if that transforms as we work. What needs to remain is the essence of why we are doing the movement.
For the dancer, my work is physically very difficult because you have to be in the present moment all the time. You cannot anticipate what is coming because when you start to act on anticipation, your movements will appear fake. You have to find the strength to keep pushing, to keep the presence alive.
How to you guide the dancers to achieve this?
I speak a lot through images, and I try to convey feelings and physical sensations through them. For example, I may ask them to feel monstrous. We would explore how to go into the body to move in a monstrous way. There may be a sense of power, largeness, but also fragility, and then we’d explore how to use this energy to move.
In group phrases, it’s less important for me that everyone’s arms are in the exact same place. It’s more important that when they are together, they are tapping into the same essence and energy and, although each of them may be, physically, a little different, together they would make total sense. That gives a profound sense of witnessing a collective feeling, but because they are different individuals, the real clarity is that of their collective energy.
What is interesting too is that after we spend all this time exploring and peeling back the layers, what remains is so simple.
Did you take a similar process with the composer, Bertrand Chénier?
Bertrand and I have worked together for many pieces and yes, we spoke a lot about energy and the general sense of the piece, and images as well. From that, he would send me some musical sketches, and suddenly, a paysage would start to take shape, even if we didn’t yet know where the final piece would go. I always begin creating my choreography in silence, and then we would marry this with Bertrand’s music.
As an artist who works primarily with the body, what part of the body most fascinates you and why?
When physical movement is initiated by one’s energy, rather than a conscious decision, it means that one is present and aligned within one’s body, and that presence is most interesting to me.