The dance project is called Shapers, although its initiators are French and the dancers are from different Mediterranean countries. A bit bashful, I was waiting on the England side of the telephone line for Anne Le Batard, artistic director of Shapers and member of Ex Nihilo, to pick up in Germany. This was the very first time for me to use my French in a real life situation. Fortunately, from the long and intriguing interview I not only learned that my language skills work, but also a lot about the work of Ex Nihilo, the world of international dance festivals, and I even got a glimpse of what Shapers is “shaping”…
Where did the idea of the project come from?
The group Ex Nihilo has been running for more than twenty years. In 2011, we organized a site-specific outdoor dance performance for the Nassim el Raqs festival in Alexandria, Egypt, which resulted in a more long-term cooperation with Egyptian partners. Later on, we brought our dance workshops and pieces to more festivals in Spain and Morocco, and an idea of an international project has emerged from all this. Two Egyptian, two Moroccan, two Spanish and two French dancers were found through an open competition, and now it’s hard to tell anymore if they were more excited or us organizers. We also received a generous support from the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. This is how the project Shapers came to be in April 2016, going on for two and a half years – we met regularly during this time. The artistic process lasted for one year, featuring different workshops, and finally the show was ready and performed in May 2017 for the first time.
How did it go?
We had the premiere at the already mentioned Nassim el Raqs festival in Alexandria. This is not exactly a festival actually, more like an artistic event with a focus on dance and visual performances. It was founded by French artist Émilie Petit in 2011 in cooperation with Egyptian colleagues. Imagine this, Alexandria, 2011… The revolutionary times made it impossible to the artists to perform in the inner city, so it was held in a less frequented but possibly a bit more protected area. The organizers also had to request some required permissions. Despite all difficulties, Nassim el Raqs has been organized every year for eight years, and this wasn’t affected by the revolution or the actual political situation. Its aim is to bring dancers together from all parts of the Earth and bring them to the street. Young artists can show their talents literally in front of the whole world. Every performance reflects on the space it is performed in, which results in extraordinary artistic contexts.
If the show is so site-specific, how could it be replaced to somewhere else?
This is one main point of Shapers: we have to reconsider the whole show in every new space. We have to find bigger connections and throw the dancers among them, we have to define the space and its borders, write the choreography, rehearse, refine… We also have to think about the audience’s perspective, like from which angle they are going to see the dancers. Not an easy task in the end, but twenty-five years of experience surely helps. The work of Ex Nihilo starts with observation, rereading an intact space, listening to our intuitions, emotions, one or the other idea, moment, feeling. We write visual dialogues from this and examine how one participant reacts on the other. There is a dialogue between a dancer and the group, between two dancers, between the solo dancer and the space, the duo and the space, the group and the space.
So the space plays a very important role.
The result is enchanting, dance brings space literally to life. The place is not only a location but a participant of the show, and we truly invest lots of energies to find, discover and interpret it. In Sevilla, for instance, we played in a space closed for twenty years and opened for our performance. Or there was Sarajevo where we performed in the Zvrk festival: although our specialty is an outdoor dance production, the building, exterior and interior of the local National Museum played a role in our preparation. It’s also a good question how our performances in different spaces build upon each other, what could a dancer bring from the Morocco show to the Sarajevo show, although, as I already mentioned, it’s a different interpretation all the time. The choreography is written and the music is always the same, but because of the nature of the play, it might also involve some improvisation.
Where did the group perform?
Apart from Alexandria, performances were held in Casablanca, Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka and Sevilla, recently in Newbury, and there is the Budapest show left.
If a city is agreed upon, do you search for local history or dance culture?
Not really the dance culture, but history is an important part of our preparations. We check the houses, streets, find out why they are as they are, how did they look in the past, we search for pictures in the internet. We received a huge help from Fanni Nánay, one of the organizers of PLACCC, because I didn’t know Budapest before at all. After a deep checking and consideration, we chose the final space. Anyway, the dancers have already arrived in Budapest, exploring the city, so that they already know it by the time of the performance. I’m going to join them on Sunday after I finish my obligations in Düsseldorf, and the show is on Monday. This will be the final performance of the whole project, Shapers ends here after two and a half years of intensive work.
So emotions will run high there, I assume…
Yes, we have to retreat for a little while afterwards to digest all this incredible time. I was happy to discover that our dancers already plan to cooperate in performances and support each other in their future ideas. Bringing them together was one of Shapers’ biggest advantage. Otherwise it’s also possible to continue Shapers in some way, but I can’t say more about it, as it’s a very distant plan. Now the next step is the farewell performance in Budapest, we focus on it with all our attention and energies.
SHAPERS – public space dance performance
3 September 2018. 6 PM. / venue: Rákóczi tér
Dancers: Lucia BOCANEGRA, Mourad KOULA, Natacha KIERBEL, Shady ABDELAHMAN, Elvira BALBOA, Ayoub KERKAL, Aurore ALLO, Ahmed SHAMEL
Music: Pascal FERRARI, Jean-Antoine BIGOT
Conception and Artistic Direction: Anne Le BATARD, Jean-Antoine BIGOT
With the help of: Rolando ROCHA, Corinne PONTANA