Beauty, Dance, Democracy: Interview with Frédérick Gravel Jan 26, 2014

by Erin

Interview excerpt with choreographer Frédérick Gravel and OtB Communications Director Erin Jorgensen

Listen to the interview.

EJ: You wrote a thesis in school about the role of a dancer in democratic society - and I'm super curious, being American...I  don't even know what that means.

FG: That's exactly why I wrote that. I tried to ask myself this question. Sometimes in the show I'm talking about that: that I want to do art that is not useful, because not wanting to be used by somebody is kind of...a nice thing to achieve in life. I would do art and my art would not be used by something, someone. But of course it's kind of an impossible task. But at the same time it's kind of nice to just ask about it: is being useful or not? The role of the artist in dance, the art in democratic society - it just made me ask, "what is a democratic society?", first. And then I realized that I'm not really living in a democratic society. So first, that was like a bad start for the question.

Serious art thoughts

EJ: Good job!

FG: But then maybe wanting to have this kind of society, maybe artists could have some kind of a role to that. So my vision of democracy is not a system, but a way to give permission, a way to give tools to everybody to just construct himself, his own individuality. It's kind of a process of being somebody that doesn't exist around you. Like you're not like the same, you're given the tools and the possibility, so everybody just constructs himself. And the artist is like a person who can give some tools or who is a nice example of that. Because we kind of make experience to just construct a vision, to construct an artistic project. And then we invite people to see that and to see our process, and what our experimentation is and what is the question we ask. And what answer we get. So this would be the role of the artist. It *could* be the role! It's hard to explain it in my second language exactly…but it would be around that. And I don't know if my pieces talk about that, but I try to work thinking about that. So it would be around this. My works are kind of a reflection of the question I'm asking myself.

Q&A with Gravel & co

EJ: Did you begin with the philosophical question first, or were you a dancer first?

FG: I took this question of creating – I read philosophy and sociology, and it was really from that angle that I came to the question, because I was already involved into producing dance and creating works. So I wanted to take a step behind just to see. Because I was already doing stuff, so I didn't want to make a thesis. Because at university we can do a practical thesis - if you want to, you can do a show, and do a thesis talking about what you did as a creation. You can make a show about the question. But I was already doing the show, so I wanted to give myself the chance to just not produce something that is a dance show that I want to sell. It's like something else. And I'm missing this space sometimes, because even if I can do whatever I want to do with shows, it's not the same space. It's not the university space. It's the jungle of contemporary arts.

EJ: Another thing you said - and maybe it's on the same topic - was that you don't like it when people tell you something - or you don't like it when you tell people something. Which I think happens a lot in the art world, and especially dance - it's kind of like - people are like, "ok, I have a message!" ... Maybe what you're doing and what some other artists are doing is creating a space where you can have a new thought. …?

FG: Yes…to say something precise in a dance is difficult. It's about balance. You don't want to say something that precise because why are you making a show when you can just say it? Don't waste your time. But at the same time if you are too confident about the fact that just putting things together will make sense, if that's your purpose, then you're lost too. So you try to find a balance. You leave lots of space for the audience to make his own way of seeing things. And at the same time you have to dive into it: "this is what I'm working on, this is what I'm proposing." You don't want to be too much like "this is really one thing" because you don't know. I don't know always. Sometimes I kind of get it. But it's about getting a space…you cannot just lie about making sense of something. Like "this is beautiful, let's do it." That's kind of what this show is about…like…can I choose to do that? To do a duet just because everything in the duet I find beautiful? And if I do that, will I be satisfied?


Gravel's pedal daisy-chain

EJ: So that was the premise? Like "oh I think this is beautiful" for whatever reason - and you just kind of feel that way and put it together and -

FG: My premise what that I had a hard time working on things just because it's beautiful, or it's beautifully danced, or the dance is beautiful, or like, the performers are beautiful, or all this stuff. So I just asked…why can't I do that? Let's just play with that, trying to do things and having a kind of criticism, being a critic about my own conception of beauty. Because then I could see how constructed I am, and how my vision of beauty is constructed. And so - but trying to be honest about it. So even if I was: ok, this is a little easy, or this is a little too much the same as everybody, or - just trying to accept it, and seeing that this is an interesting formation, is to find it and just try to give this distance. That this is me thinking that this is a little too cheesy, this is me thinking that this might be more interesting, more crunchy or something. So just trying to give this distance. And it's hard, it's hard work because we are always just on the line. Sometimes it's a little too critical, and sometimes we don't risk ourselves. So - it's a complicated show to talk about, I guess. But at the same time it's really not that hard to get.

EJ: So when you were making it  - when you kind of went with the construct of something you thought was beautiful for whatever reason - then did you find yourself changing that? Like did you say: "I think that's beautiful, but it's sentimental, or it's embarrassing, so I'm gonna change it" - or you leave that kind of stuff in, or…you know what I mean?

FG: Yeah. This would have been like, if I would have been able to keep whatever was, as you say, not too engaging or "I'm ashamed of being that way" - if I had been able to keep everything, it would have been really nice, because then I would have been able to really show myself not being too judgmental. But I'm not that way. So this is more about this kind of conversation. And this conversation made a show. So it's not like showing my own version of beauty. It's more about - during this process I saw that pop culture is everywhere and how can I work with that and use it as a prop or as an aesthetic, and just kind of twist it a little to make it more interesting. At the same time, all the really abstract contemporary modern dance I find really appealing but like a little, I don't know, too plain. And then how can I just put some of rock n roll energy into that. So that is interesting for me. So it's more like trying to stay a critic, but try to do an entertaining object at the end. So this show is trying to do everything at the same time. So I think it fails at doing all these things. But I still think it's interesting!