Tentative Approaches to a Point of Suspension
Everything, or almost everything, plays on the concept of suspension. That is, what has not happened yet, but unites the before and the after. Suspension, as an illusory absence of gravity, but also as a state of apprehension and expectation. As a moment of vulnerability straddling the space between climax and imminent fall. But also as the movement between two extremes, which is still youth and a state of grace. It is this space, where physics flirts with metaphysics, that Yoann Bourgeois’s art occupies.
A constellation of choreographies and performances capable of making human fragility sublime, which the artist has collected within a sort of endless spectacle entitled Tentative approaches to a point of suspension.
Some of these ‘attempts’ will be staged on 2 and 3 July at Spoleto65. “Starting with the details,” Bourgeois explains, “we have seen that a series of instantaneous moments can be just as powerful as one, more substantial work. My aim is the same as it always is: to go beyond the present and reach the ‘point of suspension’. Which for the artist is like the point where the sky meets the sea on the horizon. Thus, the cloister of San Nicolò will host Hourvari, almost a performance of contemporary art, in which the centrifugal force repels the bodies of the performers as they futilely try to resist it; Fugue/Table, in which two characters possess one another; and Dialogue, where everything plays out according to the concept of balance, a metaphor for the power games at work in every relationship. The Meeting Point, on the other hand, hosts Fugue/Trampoline, a real allegory for human existence revealed by alternating falls and suspensions along a staircase that never leads anywhere. Finally, the Church of Sant’Agata hosts Fugue/Balles, a spectacular dance by jugglers performed to the sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach.
“Suspension is to juggling what the strike is to bowling,” explains Bourgeois. “It is the moment when gravity is suspended. It is an absolute, vertiginous present that challenges our orientations. In trying to make it perceptible I am trying to explore the absence of gravity together with the instant together. I have decided to dedicate my life to this quest.”
Born in France in 1981, Yoann is a choreographer, acrobat, actor, dancer, juggler and poet. He is all these things and much more. He grew up in Cremans, a tiny village of six hundred in the heart of the Jura, and set out on his journey at a very young age, while he was still in primary school. He graduated from the Centre national des Arts du Cirque and at the age of 18 left for Romania, where he lived in gypsy communities. He picked up their secrets and performed in their circus shows. The circus became a metaphor for his life. He studied at Rosny-sous-Bois and Châlons-en-Champagne. From 2004 to 2006, he attended both the Centre National des Arts du Cirque in Châlons-en-Champagne and the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers, becoming the only student to attend both courses at the same time. He deepened his studies with artist-pedagogue Alexandre Del Perugia. With researcher and choreographer Kitsou Dubois, he discovered how poetic the absence of gravity can be.
“Suspension is a small window to eternity,” says Yoann, who from 2006 to 2010 worked alongside Maguy Marin as a permanent member of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Rillieux-la-Pape dance company. In 2008, he created the Atelier du joueur, a nomadic research space where creative people and artists from around the world meet every summer. This experience gave birth to the Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois in 2010. The first project is Cavale, which the artist defines as “a poem in which the fall is treated as a plot, repeated and varied on an aimless scale. A polysemic theatre in which images are formed without ever stopping”. A 35-minute performance in which two protagonists, dressed in black on a snow-white stage, hover between jumps and falls. Bourgeois began a journey that led him to explore the role of the human figure within space.
The definitive moment came in 2014 with Minuit, which was staged at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and presented at the Biennale de la Danse de Lyon.
It is a show within a show, where a group of dancers move on a 36-square-metre platform that constantly rotates and changes position. Yet another investigation into the ephemeral concept of rising and falling, precarious balance and centrifugal force. Three men and three women who run, fight against the current, rely on one another’s support not to lose balance. They move closer together and then further apart. They form a mass, then a pair, then a mass again, until the inevitable final fall. This show mixes Charlie Chaplin with Buster Keaton with Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Suspense thus becomes a study in crossing boundaries.
“There’s something ethical about suspension,” says Bourgeois, who over the years has collaborated with artists such as Missy Elliot, Coldplay, Harry Styles and FKA Twigs, “because it’s something that can dissolve power relationships. It ties in with the theme of balancing forces. It can involve a person but also a place, or, it can happen between the artist and his or her own audience.”
Since 2016, Bourgeois has been director of the Centre chorégraphique national in Grenoble, becoming the first circus artist to lead a national institution dedicated to choreographic art. The last few years have seen a hypnotic performance at the Pantheon, entitled La Mécanique de l’histoire, commissioned by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and the choral Passants for the grand finale of the 18th Lyon Biennial. During the same event, the choreographer – who now lives in the French Alps, in Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse, a small village near the spectacular Carthusian Monastery with his partner, the dancer Marie Vaudin – occupied the former Guimet Museum and directed, together with Michel Reilhac, Fugue VR, the first acrobatic work realised with virtual reality, which allows spectators to experience vertigo first-hand.
Yet the choreographer’s creative journey is constantly evolving. His output touches on all fields of art and knowledge: from fashion to design, from outpt to ecology. His latest project is the foundation of the first creative centre in an Espace Naturel Sensible (ENS), which will be be a crossover between poetic and environmental research. “Nature is a determining element of all my work because it is never under human control,” he explains. “And it is also suspended: perhaps the most mysterious of all”.