The many talents of Yoann Bourgeois

Antonio Mancinelli

A choreographer, director and dancer with experience in circus, he became artistic director at CCN de Grenoble at the age of 40. He is the first artist to use  mechanical devices to evoke perpetual motion: that of nature, of life, of dancers. According to The New York Times, he is “a playwright of physics”: The New Yorker described him as “an acrobat of the nouveau-cirque.” Yoann Bourgeois’s work straddles dance, philosophy, acrobatics, politics, and literature. Much of his output explores what he calls the search for the “suspension point” – namely, when a body propelled through the air reaches its highest point but has not yet begun its descent. What is this phenomenon? “The perfect balance of forces at a given point in time.”

An externalisable fragment of time in which everything can be explained; a metaphor for existence. Each of his performances is a dialogue, a contrast between control and collapse that requires risk-taking, both physical and aesthetic. But there is joy in everything Bourgeois does.

Fugue Trampoline © Pascale Cholette

Which work are you bringing to the Spoleto Festival?

The experience of the pandemic led me to think about very real topics, such as sustainability in production, and distribution methods. And so I decided that I’d only perform my compositions when I’d found the right places to perform them. The city is sublime: it was not difficult to find, but it will be difficult to maintain as it is. I wanted to find places where my works could enter into dialogue with the environment.



Turning to play: you’ve spoken in many interviews about “play”, or “jouer” in French – about actions closely related to the dimension of spectacle, of seeing and being seen. This can be important for dealing with the suffering in the age in which we live…

Play saved me. Play means turning restrictions into rules that playfully help overcome problems, distances, obstacles. You ask me how to “use” play in hard times. I answer that it is precisely in these moments that creativity intervenes: the flash, the moment of light that illuminates the darkness. Artists must do this: teach others to find new formulas of salvation in the face of uncertainty, because you cannot do it alone. But you can if you all work together.

What are the issues that can be addressed through play?

We are facing threats from intrusive technology, from nuclear wars, from a planet that is rebelling against the torture we are subjecting it to. The spheres of the symbolic and the imaginary are our weapons in this struggle. These dimensions are just as important as the physical, just as the political dimension is no less relevant than the poetic. The alternation of stable and unstable states shows and reveals the cyclical structure of space and time. For life to be livable, for peace to become a reality, one cannot do without an approach that is both political and poetic.



How have your many passions helped define your artistic vision?

They have helped me to “play”, that is not to be categorizable within a specific profession but to cross the boundaries of different fields. Of course, to become the artistic director of the CCN in Grenoble, I had to go through all the stages recognised by institutions – I studied with Maguy Marin – but, apart from that, they also allowed me to be influenced by diverse cultural stimuli. My mission is to break down certain labels and to forge ever closer ties that do not create fractures but instead fuse different artists and establish new ties with the territory through the artists.



Finally, what message do you want to transmit to the audience?

That this is an integral part of my performances. I hope to communicate to audience members that they are essentially an entity of permanent interactions. Only joy can allow us to unite our own selves with those of others.