Gilles Amalvi  - Interview program Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Saint Denis, 24.04.2004

Your choreography creates very pure and abstract forms but always inspired by russian reality. How do you project a poetic space from this realistic source?

“Russian reality” is the main source for my work. And it’s true, this reality in a country which is changing fast, which has lost its ideology, is not very poetic. But the, there is also a tradition in Russia, which is probably older than communism: to see this reality with a sense of absurdism and nostalgia. We know it’s bad and it has always been bad and it will always be bad, but, do we deserve better? I think that this culture has many reasons to create art. Maybe it’s a culture based on dreams, because reality is so bad and maybe it is these dreams which keep us alive, lift the reality into a more poetic level. 

This performance deals with the situation of men. The image of man is often associated with strength. Did you want to go deeper into the fragile balance of that image and to represent the wounds of their body and minds ? How are their bodies affected by this reality ?

If you would go in the Russian province you would see that Russian men are hurt. There is often no work and if there is work, it won’t pay much. It’s hard for them to maintain a sense of self esteem and most of them try to solve their problems through alcohol, lots of it. It’s possible to look at those men and to think: they are all the same and they don’t have any feelings anymore. The men in “Staring” don’t look like this. They look hurt by life, but they haven’t lost their sensitivity. 
The movement material, the way they use their bodies, doesn’t really come from a specific contemporary dance style. Partly because I don’t know these styles, but mostly because I think that the movement language should be the result of content and not of a style. Some of the movement in the piece for example comes from the way prisoners have to sit for many hours in a row. It’s a way of sitting you can see where ever people have to wait, which is almost everywhere, all the time.

This reality is related to the violent history of Russia. Is this "staring into eternity" a step you wanted to make out of history, to tell just simply how men try to reach themselves ?

I don’t think that I have thought about this piece as being an allegory for Russian history. But of course, Russian history is about constant suffering and within that suffering, generation after generation has been able to survive by finding a reason to live: “tomorrow everything will be better”. Sometimes Russia gives you the feeling that nothing has ever developed. There are changes here, but one is never sure in how far it really touches the people. They seem to stay the same and “waiting” and “suffering” are still part of most people’s lives. That is maybe also why we have to find our own contemporary dance “styles” here. We cannot just copy styles that reflect a culture which is not familiar with our “reality”. These styles wouldn’t contain the language that I need to say what I have to say about and in my culture.

We can feel an ancient time going through the bodies. How are the different temporality - past, present, future - imbricated ? What is the place of silence ?

Most Russian contemporary dance choreographers, including me, have a strong
background in folkdance and in folkdance the music and the rhythm of the music is essential. I use this because it is “normal” for me, but in addition I mix the music with different atmospheric sounds, to take it away from “normal”. I guess I use the rhythm to hold on to and to get away from at the same time, as I use unison in my choreography to brake away from. 
Silence is a problem in Russia: Russian audiences are not used to have any silence in dance pieces, dance and music seem to be inseparable for them. That is why also for me the music is very important, but I try to get away from just synchrony and to use music and sound as a way to create an additional layer in my work. Silence is a logical part of that.

Did you try to generate a message of hope through this choreography ? Do you think that this "brotherhood" that leads the dancers is stronger than anything ?

Russia has a recent history of social realism: every expression of art had to have a message. I don’t intend I have one, but maybe I cannot escape my past, so maybe I do.
Since I take my subjects from “Russian reality”, it is very well possible that there is a message, but I don’t think that it is a message which leads us away from this reality. Maybe I just want to show that there is a different kind of beauty, one that is defined not by romantic images, but by Russian life itself.

Russian dance has a great history. Do you consider it as an "heritage", with which you have to deal with ?

I am not sure whether I feel connected to Russian dance history, maybe more to literature and film. As I said, I grew up in the far Russia province, where nobody had any idea about dance as an art form. In Siberia there are hundreds of groups that all practice their “contemporary” dance.
Contemporary dance here has no history in opposing the ballet and it is much more connected to folkdance and the dances that we created during communism. We have some other problems, coming from that history, like how to find our individuality and how to believe in movement itself and not just in stories and messages.