The poetry of the dance, the curiosity for learning and the Romanian experience – an interview with the choregrapher Lucas Viallefond

Lucas Viallefond, dancer and teacher, is one of the most active artists in the field.

He toured in Morocco, Japan, Montenegro, France, England, United States of America, Germany. He danced in some Operas in Capitole of Toulouse, in Royal Opera of Wallonie (Belgium) and at the Paris Opera.

He had taught dance in schools in France and abroad (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Israel, Hungary, England, Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Sweden), for the Paris Opera School, the English National Ballet School, the Basel Theater, the Ballet Preljocaj, Bolshoi dancers and many others.

Read the story of the first teacher that came to Bucharest in the project South East European Dance Stations (SEEDS) at the National Center for Dance Bucharest in this interview to find more about how he understands the dance and how was his teaching experience in Romania.

The National Center for Dance Bucharest launched in 2022 in partnership with Brain Store Project Foundation (Sofia) and  Stanica – Service for Contemporary Dance (Belgrad) the second edition of the Academy of Dance and Performance, an intensive program of education and learning into the contemporary dance dedicated to the dancers and producers emergents. This academy has the mission to integrate the young artists and producers into the European professional scene through an intense and long-lasting preparation. The Academy has participants from Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Moldavian Republic.

Laura-Lucia Găvan in an interview with Lucas Viallefond at the National Dance Center in Bucharest.
Photo credits: Simona Șerban.

Laura Lucia Găvan (L.L.G): Thank you for accepting this interview invitation, and I say that because I know that time is short and you will return in a couple of days in France. We are in the Stere Popescu dance room, at the National Center of Dance in Bucharest. The project Office European Dance Station has a huge chance to start with you as the first teacher, so, to start with workshops that will speak directly about the relation between emotions, human body and movement.

In an interview that you have given for radio RFI, you have said that the most important is that the dancer has something to tell and that after it, it’s “to build”, so, to learn and develop. What have you discovered that the students of this program have to say, in your workshops with them?

Lucas Viallefond (L.V): When I say this, it is regarding the dancer on the scene. For the dancer at the workshop, in the class, it’s a different thing, because he has to build his body. And what I discovered here is that the students needed to learn a bit more about the space, so I based a lot of my first two weeks on the theoretical side. I gave two hours of dance class and one of theory and after the theoretic part, I took the composition and the geometric forms, the axes and they had a lot of questions.

Exactly for them, understanding what is the space and being able to express themselves is what counts the most. So, it was quite interesting, I discovered a lot of students that had the curiosity of learning about space and that’s what I did – I made everything possible so that I give the maximum information on this subject. And they presented some exercises at Open Day Studio, they were exercices that we have worked together and I found really interesting, because when we really use the space, the dance becomes more dimensional (like 3D), and it is used the space of the body of the dancer, but also all the space from the dance hall and this transforms the dance in a richer experience.

L.L.G: You have already answered one question that I had in my mind: what were the lessons of this experience in Romania. You have already said that the dance means action and that the dancer is like a painter. I liked this analogy very much and if we think like this, then we can tell that the dancer works a lot with images, whether they are kinesthetic, visual or audio.

Do you give the same images and highlights in every country where you teach?

L.V: Obviously, I change the images, because each culture has its own specificity, but the base is the same: the movement, so – as we all have one body that moves, the movement is universal.

The way we see and understand the movement may be different from one culture to another. Often, when I arrive in a country that I don’t know, I start with images that are universal. Over time, I continue with the specific aspects of the local culture. I discovered papanasi, in Romania, so here I speak about the heat, the texture, the mixture between the dough and the fruit, so that I am able to indicate the quality of the movement. After that, I say that dance means action because the language of it is French and within the contemporary dance – we use verbs of action – to play, to battle, to melt.

I change the images that I use according to the age of the dancers, to their experience (if they are professionals or amateurs). There are a lot of things that count, but since the movement is universal, I will integrate in my discourse the things that I see from the country where I am – the architecture, the museums etc.

L.L.G: Is this helpful for the students?

L.V: Yes, of course, because that leads in the dance studio to the same experience. This is interesting, because I don’t have the same culture that they have. And in the end we arrive to find a link together, so that we speak the same (dance) language.

L.L.G.: How do you succeed in inviting the students to learn and also to experiment, when it comes to classical and contemporary dance?

L.V: During my class, there is a theoretic part and a technique one, but the technique part has to train the dancer so he is prepared, no matter the dance style to use, because I use a method and not a technique based on a style or another. I work as much on the arms held and on the flexible arms, for example. I try to bring as much details regarding all the possibilities of the body’s dancer. And one of these possibilities is keeping the arms as we have to, being a little outside positioned, a bit like in classical dance. We don’t have the same approach, but the result is almost the same. I speak also from the anatomic point of view, about the muscles and the bones. And this is also universal. Me, I bring all the possibilities and after that, the students, if they want to also do classical dance, that is so much better.

L.L.G: Me, I have studied the drawing and I remember that my teacher said to me: “but you have everything you need, you can use your body for the hypostases to draw”. I sincerely wonder if you have a strategy before coming to each institution or if you create your curricula and discourse depending on the students?

L.V: When I have a pianist, I don’t imagine anything. When I enter the studio the first few days, I see the students arriving and when I see them walking there, I know what I will do with them. When I don’t have a pianist, I prepare my music ahead, I have a rich playlist, so that I know that each composition allows me to create various exercises and, by this, I have like a menu, like a map and I see them arriving and I take out one card. But it’s easier when I have a pianist, because we want to link the dance with the piano music and by this, I don’t prepare anything. I have only a very vague idea of what we will be doing. At the theoretical level, I know what I will teach. At the practical level, I never prepare in advance, because I have to adapt to the students. For instance, here, I have one student who is 18 years old and another one who is 30. So the bodies are not the same. This one at 18 years old has barely a formation as a professional dancer, but the person at 30 years old is already a professional. So I have to create a class that has to teach each of them. This is very difficult and I can create this only at the moment. I have to be very flexible, like a chewing-gum and when I see that one exercise isn’t working, I stop and choose another angle, to make sure that the notion that we have worked together was properly learned.

L.L.G: Do you have any expectations or do you see this program just like a workshop of learning and experimenting?

L.V.: I like to let myself be surprised by what happens in the studio. What I liked a lot was that after the days with intense theoretical training, when it was a lot of information and very complicated, it came one day when we worked some directions and I suddenly saw the bodies were very different. And it was just one day after the training. So I let myself be amazed by their bodies that absorb information. I don’t expect that everybody will learn an exercise in three weeks.

L.L.G: So you don’t necessarily have something to show and present at the end?

L.V: No. I mean, I had to present something at Open Day but when I started working at the presentation, I didn’t know what we would do. We continued to work out and I told them we will present this and this. People are like little mice. The idea was to give a normal workshop and the public had the opportunity to observe, so it wasn’t a presentation by itself.

After that, I spoke a lot about the theory, so that the public can understand, but I wasn’t here with the goal that after four weeks I have to present something. I find this very interesting, to work about composition and improvisation, on the themes related to the space on the scene. If they can create a little solo and if that comes from them, it’s even better, it will last longer in their bodies. So they have worked on their own style, with universal background and I leave happy, because each of them has grown. Their solos were very different from each other. It was fantastic to see that each one had a completely different style, since I don’t impose any form in special. 

L.L.G: At the end, the result was surprising for you too.

L.V: Yes, because some of them are very shy and I don’t force them, but I see that, I observe it during the workshops. After that, I ask myself how is this possible, because when we worked 13 or 14 persons in the studio, they had the space to work and at one moment, it was a student that really surprised me because he had crossed all the space, he had started by running and I was really asking how was this change possible, because he hasn’t done this at rehearsals and I have seen him like never before in the class. It’s amazing, because I see how his body is reconstructing and the result it’s a wonderful surprise – he dances alone the entire space.

L.L.G: You said that you prefer the solos of dancers and if we remain with this analogy with painters, then we can tell that this is a portrait. But almost all the time you have dozens of students. So it’s a collective portrait. How do you change the images, to build this group portrait?

L.V: They are different ways to see the group. You can see the group as one, as only one thing. It’s a global dance. My vision of a group is full of one person that forms a group, but all these units must breathe together, so the concept has to be larger, to include everyone in only one way possible of doing this group show and in the same time keeping each individual style, that is the challenge. That’s why it’s more difficult to do this kind of work, because the people are really unique and putting the people to breath in the same way, that takes time and energy. As a choreographer, this is the solo that interests me, but as a teacher, it’s that kind of energy that interests me, with attention for every solo.

L.L.G: As an artist and teacher, there is always a question: what to prioritize? How do you choose the projects, the teaching ones and those as choreographer and dancer?

L.V: At my age, I still prioritize dancing. By this I mean that if I have a dancer contract and one as a teacher, I will choose the dancer one, because my body can still dance. When the schedule allowed it, I had two contracts at the same time, one as teacher and one as dancer. But if I have the two proposal contracts at the same time, I choose the dancer. Because it feeds me more as a person, so that I am able to give back in the class.

Giving just classes all the time, that can lead to exhaustion at a certain time. We need to continue to dance, our job is dancing. In a dance class, you work with yourself. I always choose dancing and besides that, I also dance my own projects and I can do this when I want, because I have them in my mind. After that, I truly love teaching. I love to transmit to young people who are willing to learn. I try to say yes all the time, in fact. It’s continuous learning for me.

L.L.G.: And if we come back to the context of Romania, you were here for the first time with this Academia of Dance and Performance. What are the images and the sounds that you will take with you, when you are living the country away, in a few days?

L.V.: The sounds are those of sparrows in the morning, because just in the morning they shout. And the horns of the cars on the boulevard on my way to the National Center of Dance. I have in my mind images of the architecture of the city; they are some really beautiful buildings. And at the same time, beside the building, we can see a lot of abandoned houses that are still magnificent. And after that the papanasi, at the restaurant. In each restaurant, I was looking for papanasi. And after that, sarmale, cabbage rolls with minced meat, that’s very tasty.

LL.G: What were your biggest discoveries here in Bucharest?

L.V: I was at Therme and I went on the big slide. I experimented with the swing, but with the whole body, just like in a little swing at the playground. I am afraid of things that slip fast and at the first time when I went on the big slide, I was afraid, but after that I realized “but it’s just a swing, like in the dance”, and after that I closed my eyes. I recommended to my students to go to Therme so they can also experiment with this swing. Besides this, I saw a lot of museums that really impressed me, because I saw really beautiful and amazing objects and collections. I can’t choose just one, but the universe, the atmosphere that I had, I really appreciate all that I had here.

L.L.G: In the end, how do you see this program of the National Dance Center? Like a unique project for the south East of Europe? How do you see the role of this program on the contemporary dance scene?

L.V.: I find this very interesting, this project of the Academy, because there doesn’t exist any formation here as contemporary dancer, I mean as an academic education program in Romania. There are some really good dancers, with an incomplete training and with all the connections that they obtain and gather and with all the choreographers that are coming, the dancers that are the students will have an amazing palette. What’s even more surprising is that they don’t have to move, the choreographers are coming here to teach for them. Besides this, between the selected students, we have comedians, dancers and so on, which is a huge chance for the teacher, to have a palette of professionals like those here that we can work with, so that gives the possibility of creating some artistic practice exchanges. I think it’s very important that this program is happening and it will be good that it will give birth to an academic formation for contemporary dancers, because they really have this need, they are eager to learn.

L.L.G: Working everywhere all around the world as a teacher, that changed you? How?

L.V: I learned a lot about the culture of each country. And I understood that if there is a problem locally, that will make an impact at the global level, such as pollution, for example. So me, with my habits, I have an impact at each level. And that will also impact all the students that I will have. And them, they will impact others. That changes me. I didn’t necessarily realize at the beginning, but I will arrive in another country and there I will figure out that I have kept something from each country. What did I win? The fact of learning to formulate what I have to teach depending on the students that I have in front of me, that’s a big win. The students are receiving my feedback in a different way depending on the country where they are.. And I know that every country has its own culture, so they don’t necessarily react in the same way. I try to understand all that. I go to see a lot of museums, because that helps me learn enormously about the culture of that country. And obviously, I try to learn all that I can about the country where I teach also from the socio-political point of view. I’m a constant learner. And even when I come back to a certain country, after some years, I observe what has changed.

L.L.G: We arrived at the end of our interview, thank you again for accepting our invitation.

L.V: I also thank you.

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