Manuel Vignoulle definitely knows how to start something new. A new company, a new country, new choreography or new possibilities, it doesn’t matter; like a gifted dancer starting a new phrase, he can keep moving through every new beginning. Vignoulle studied dance in his native Paris, and after graduating from the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Danse de Paris, he went on to dance with several European Companies, including Les Ballets Redha from 1997 to 2001 and the Ballet du Grand Théatre de Genève from 2003 to 2008. The following year, he left a successful career in Europe to start a new one in the United States, performing with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet until 2011. Along the way, he’d performed for television, videos, fashion shows, operas and musical theater, so by the time he decided to begin focusing all of his time on his career as a choreographer, he was already an old hand at starting something new. That’s why it’s more than appropriate that Vignoulle’s newest work, “Together We Stand”, will be one of the works performed by Randy James’ brand new repertory company 10 Hairy Legs at their World Premiere in New Jersey on November 25.
It’s a significant event for many reasons, not the least of which is simply that 10 Hairy Legs is a repertory company. In an excellent article about the new Company in The Star-Ledger, Robert Johnson observes that “repertory companies are still the exception in modern dance, where most troupes exist to serve an individual artist’s vision”. That alone would make Randy James’ new Company something new, but James, whose own artist-directed company Randy James Dance Works enjoyed sixteen seasons of continuous performances, has built his new company on an even more original concept. James’ 10 Hairy Legs is an all-male ensemble, and an essential part of the Company’s vision is “to celebrate and exploit the tremendous technical and emotional range of today’s male dancer in modern dance”.
While 10 Hairy Legs is a new company, it’s the result of an extensive set of shared performance experience. James has been a member of the faculty of Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts for almost two decades, and the founding performers in 10 Hairy Legs are all dancers who James worked with extensively during their time together at the University. It’s a brilliant concept and certainly a bold one, all the more promising because of James very broad understanding of what makes dance work as an art; his immensely popular Dance Appreciation Class at Rutgers has attracted more than 10,000 students, mostly non-dance majors, in just a few years.
James is equally committed to the discovery and promotion of new choreographic voices. The Company’s site 10hl.org makes it clear that an important part of their mission will be the performance of “existing and new works by today’s most significant modern dance choreographers”. Manuel Vignoulle is one such choreographer; James had seen Vignoulle on stage with Cedar Lake Ballet, and when Vignoulle began choreographing, some of his work came to James’ attention. Vignoulle describes how supportive James was, especially in helping him understand the differences between the European choreographic world that Vignoulle had come up through and the sometimes very different way that choreographers work in the United States. As James developed the plans for the debut of 10 Hairy Legs, he contacted Vignoulle about creating a piece for the new company. “I was very excited when Randy told me what he was planning,” Vignoulle says. “Men can be very powerful.”
Vignoulle’s “Together We Stand” is a work in two movements, with two very different and carefully crafted insights. “I ended up doing something very tribal,” Vignoulle explains. “I think that men have become a bit lost in society, often denying what could be called a certain ‘wildness’. I wanted to develop this aspect of men, and how they relate to each other in that context.” The piece is about the wilder side of male camaraderie, and in the first section, Vignoulle explores the relationships between men when they are together, fighting almost for fun. The second section depicts the same men, but months or even years later, when they’ve become tired of the wars that they began, war that doesn’t make sense to them any more. Vignoulle’s movement design is stark and direct, but characteristically careful. “I wanted to have something more raw,” he says, “a strong, more male energy, but of course, there are parts with the music that are more lyrical.”
The other works at 10 Hairy Legs’ world debut include the World Premiere of James’ “Pillar of Salt”, “Bang” by David Parker of The Bang Group, and Claire Porter’s “Interview”. It’s an exciting new start, a promising beginning to what will very likely be a significant new Company. With the especially insightful perspective that comes with creative experience,Randy James has come up with an idea that is at once compelling and quite unique. No wonder he’s brought a lot of other creative people like Manuel Vignoulle into it; it’s a great way to start something new.