PRE-View: Manuel Vignoulle’s “EARTH” at The Dance Gallery Festival NYC and at The McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival
In it, Vignoulle creates a unique and special language in dance, inspired by some exceptionally careful reflection on a complex subject …
People often speak of ‘the language of dance’, perhaps because dance is capable of expressing thoughts and ideas in a way that is very different from the linear logic of spoken words. There’s something of a paradox in this though, because what dance can express is often the kind of thought that transcends language. Ideas that are not well captured by vocabulary, understanding that is not well served by definition — this and more can be the fabric of movement and light and all of the interactions of choreography.
Manuel Vignoulle’s work is emblematic of this, partly because his willingness to invest in careful thought and reflection is extraordinary, and partly because his ability to express that thought as movement design is so remarkable. It’s a theme that extends through almost all of his work, not least the duet Black & White that was awarded the Grand Prize at the 2017 McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival when he performed it with Rena Butler.
Vignoulle’s latest work is a trio entitled EARTH, which he will be performing with Danica Paulos and Matteo Fiorani at The Dance Gallery Festival NYC (Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 4 at 3:00 pm at Ailey Citygroup Theatre), and then at The McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival, Palm Desert, California (Saturday, November 10 at 7:00 pm). In it, Vignoulle creates a unique and special language in dance, inspired by some exceptionally careful reflection on a complex subject — the interaction and connection and mutual involvement each of us experiences with others. We asked Manuel to give us some more insight into his thoughts, and to the beautiful way he expresses them in EARTH. Here’s what he told us:
It’s always a challenge, when instead of just feeling crowded by others, what you would really like is to feel so rejuvenated that you can be your own self …
Johnny Nevin: EARTH is a remarkable composition — a nine minute trio, most of it paced very moderately, in which the three dancers never lose their physical connection to eachother. And yet the movement is always dynamic and the trajectory is riveting. It seems like this could only be possible because there must be an exquisitely careful thought structure driving the work. Can you tell us what those thoughts were — the ideas we see expressed and embodied in EARTH?
Manuel Vignoulle: There is a continuous connection between all of us, and EARTH is based on the idea of that connection, and also on the harmony that we always try to maintain in our connection with one another. It’s an equilibrium that is constantly changing, as we try to find some personal space and some purpose — to inspire, to be pushed, to give hope. It’s a process of balance and counterbalance, in which we try to guide, and to be guided, in our search and suggestion of new directions.
Living in a very big city, I always find it challenging to keep some kind of personal space — on public transportation, at work, in relationships. It’s always a challenge, when instead of just feeling crowded by others, what you would really like is to feel so rejuvenated that you can be your own self, without pretense or glitter. This is how I began to consider the idea of finding the right amount of space, the right way to be inclusive without being intrusive. I began to realize that other people sometimes are like a mirror, challenging us by showing us what we don’t want to see, pushing us to evolve and expand.
I use it as a mediator for peace, to generate hope …
With the social and political context in the world, I felt it was very important to create a piece that talks about the dynamics of our connections with others, about working together but still challenging each other, about finding harmony, and a feeling of peace with one another and in life. I believe art is here for many reasons, but for me, I use it as a mediator for peace, to generate hope and a deeper desire to create harmony in this world of differences and misunderstanding.
By the end of that rehearsal, I knew that we had found something really valuable …
Johnny: How did you make these ideas into movement? What are some of the processes you worked with, and some of the inspiration that you found, that guided you in creating EARTH, the dance piece we see, from the ideas that led to its imagining?
Manuel: When I created this trio, I was tired of creating fast-paced dance, movement with so many steps, where there was so much fast action all the time. I wanted to be bold and take a different direction from what I was used to, to enjoy the beauty of a slower pace, with more time to see and feel. I had been workshopping some new work with a few dancers, and after a week it ended up that there were just three of us in the studio. We spent about an hour and a half just playing with the idea of being connected, of using and helping eachother, but all very spontaneously. By the end of that rehearsal, I knew that we had found something really valuable that should be developed, and after another twelve hours of rehearsal together, we had the main structure of the work. I originally performed the work with Isaies Santamaria and Stephanie Williams, and in our performances beginning with The Dance Gallery Festival in New York on November 3rd and 4th, Danica Paulos, Matteo Fiorani and I will be performing.
I’m very grateful to these artists, because their work enriches the ideas we are sharing in EARTH — that we are individuals who are constantly evolving …
The work is pretty intricate, with a lot of off-balance and counter-balance moments. We are almost always connected, as if we were very much interdependent, but still able to keep our own identity, our own singularity. We affect each other, but we can still make our own decisions. I’ve always found trios interesting, because there’s an extra person in a couple. That extra person could be a witness, a stabilizing influence, or someone who creates disruptions. The number “3” also has many meanings — it symbolizes the tripartite nature of the world as heaven, earth, and water, and it’s also very human in the idea of body, soul, and spirit. In the movement design, I’ve actually used some religious images, like Michelangelo’s painting where God reaches out his hand to Man, to express the care and help we can give to one another. The very last image of the work is inspired by a statue I saw in the gardens at Versaiile, where one person is reaching to Heaven, one to Earth, and the third is making the connection between them.
When it came to adding the overall design of the work, including music, costumes and lighting, I was very much looking for design that would reflect and resonate with all of these same ideas. The repetitive score “Coucher de Lune” ( “Moonset”) by Deuter brings some hope of a new day after a long and dark night. It brings peacefulness and acceptance to this journey, to the process of being, sharing and growing. In terms of costumes, I really wanted to enhance the beauty and simplicity of the shapes of the bodies. Travis Halsey, an award-winner designer, and I created the design of tattooed unitards. The tribal look adds another layer to the piece and emphasizes the fact we could be the first three humans on earth, leading the way to an ideal world. In his lighting, Curtis Shields creates a evolving design that supports and resonates with the movement. I’m very grateful to these artists, because their work enriches the ideas we are sharing in EARTH — that we are individuals who are constantly evolving; questioning one another while on a continual quest for challenges to be overcome, and for new paths to be created.
Manuel Vignoulle will present EARTH at
The Dance Gallery Festival NYC on Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 4 at 3:00 pm at Ailey Citygroup Theatre. Tickets are available on line from BrownPaperTickets.com for both the November 3rd performance and the November 4th performance
at APAP 2019 at Peridance NYC on Saturday 5th at 8:30 pm and Sunday 6th at 4:30 pm at Salvatore Capezio Theatre