Manuel Vignoulle’s “In a Box” at Chicago Repertory Ballet
Chicago Repertory Ballet’s Spring / Summer Performance is exactly the kind of concert that Artistic Director Wade Schaaf was talking about, right after founding the new Chicago based Company in 2012, when he described what the Company intended to do. Schaaf told aotpr.com that the Company’s concerts would combine the individual voices of talented independent choreographers (that’s the Repertory part) with a new approach to storytelling in dance (that’s the Ballet part). Their Spring / Summer Performance at the Vittum Theater in Chicago will feature the Premiere of Schaaf’s own one-act work The Rites of Spring, a re-imagined interpretation of Stravinsky’s famous score on its one-hundredth anniversary, along with four works by a group of inventive independent choreographers: Jacqueline Stewart, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Monique Haley and French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle.
Vignoulle has been based in New York since 2009, which is when he left a successful performance career in Europe to join Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and his work as an independent choreographer has been centered there since moving on from Cedar Lake in 2011 to focus on his rapidly expanding work as a choreographer. His background gives him a large palette of artistic approaches to blend from, having worked both in the introspective, conceptual world of European modernism and in what in some ways can seem the very different contemporary dance culture of North America.
“A few years ago,” Vignoulle observes, “I might have said that American dancers are more ‘external’, more physically demonstrative, because of the impact of popular forms like tap, musical theater and jazz, and that European dancers are more internal, beginning movement more from within.” It’s a perception that he continues to refine, though. “Now I would say that’s a bit of a generalization,” he continues, “because I can definitely see more of a European influence on American dancers, just as I wish that European dancers would take more from American dancers. I like American dancers for their efficiency and for their great attitude at work, just as I like European dancers for the inner quality of their movement.”
That same concept of what’s inside and what’s outside is very much at the heart of Vignoulle’s In a Box, the duet that Chicago Repertory Ballet will perform at their Spring / Summer Series. In a Box is set to a carefully intricate sound design, with a smoothly effective narration by French dancer Manon Parent layered over Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. In the work, Vignoulle explores the ways that two people find the best of themselves by what he describes as “sharing and melting and challenging their differences.”
Although the work is almost a character study, it’s more choreography than theater because of Vignoulle’s consciously open approach to the performers he works with. “I don’t really use actual characters,” he explains, “I use situations. I start with a feeling, a sensation, an emotion, and then I try to express it through movement.” For Vignoulle, the exact way to express those ideas depends at least as much on what the dancers themselves can make as on his original direction. “In general, I give as much indication as possible about intentions and movement,” he says, “but the interpretation is the dancers’ work. I always ask them to make up their own story, and when they do, they bring me far away from the movement itself and I travel with them.” In a Box is characteristic of Vignoulle’s thoughtful approach to designing dance, with his progressive exploration of the boxes and boundaries that confine people’s lives ideally suited to his ability to structure movement within the space on a stage.
In addition to In a Box, the Chicago Repertory Balley Spring / Summer Performance also features Jacqueline Stewart’s One Way, Jessica Miller Tomlinson’s Architecture: Splintered and Cracked, Monique Haley’s I.D. (Inner Deity), and Schaaf’s one-act The Rites of Spring, in performances Friday June 21st and Saturday June 22nd at 8PM and Sunday June 23rd at 2PM. Tickets are at Brown Paper Tickets.